Political Correctness is Gay – Here’s Why

pc cartoon

You don’t kill a disease by addressing its symptoms. Cancer is not treated with painkillers and anti-emetics. If you call someone a rake, you are not saying that the gardening implement is an immoral pleasure seeker. Language and words do not carry any objective meaning. Any meaning a word has is created by the person saying it, and the context in which it is used. Given these realities, it still amazes me that so many people choose to focus on the words people say, while the issues that they claim those words represent continue to fester and plague our society.

Last summer, Marc Maron was fortunate enough to host President Barack Obama on his podcast to have a discussion about racism in society. During his interview, POTUS used the word “nigger.” The resulting media frenzy, predictably enough, focused on Obama’s language rather than discussing the actual issue he pointed out. The actual point the president was making, that racism is not marked by people not saying “nigger” in public, but rather by the very fabric of our institutions that prevents minorities from being treated equally and fairly, was lost in the fray. And that, precisely that, is why I am so opposed to the way millennials approach issues of social justice, through the lens of being inoffensive, rather than the lens of actually solving the problem.

Two days ago, I had a discussion with some folks who were offended by my use of the word “pussy” and claimed that it was perpetuating a sexist stereotype of women as weak. As has been the case with all previous discussions I’ve had on the topic, I did not hear an argument which explains the moral impropriety of my use of the word. Rather, I was faced with the same emotional contentions which I’ve heard before. In this post I’d like to go over some of those and then offer my own background.

Let’s talk about the first point, that language perpetuates the very “ism” that we want to prevent. There is no evidence, at least that I’ve found, to suggest that the presence or absence of slurs in a lexicon promotes or discourages discriminatory behavior. Take the “N-word,” for example. There is no question that the word is most often used in black communities by black people. Yet, it would be quite a stretch to claim that the black people are the most racist against black people. In that context, the word is used to refer to friends, acquaintances, enemies, and everyone in between. Words do not create or perpetuate attitudes of people toward each other. Words are created and used by people for particular, contextualized purposes. If one is going to claim otherwise, then there should be some actual evidence to accompany that claim.

Next, people argue that using the word in a negative fashion associates that characteristic with the people the word is used to describe. For example, calling something gay means you’re saying homosexuality is a negative thing. Well, the word gay also means happy or joyous. Am I also saying happiness is a negative thing? If you’re going to claim that meanings of words are associated, then you must explain why some meanings are excluded from that association. Otherwise, it doesn’t really make sense. Words can be given multiple meanings; that doesn’t mean that all those meanings are linked or associated, nor does it mean the speaker is associating those meanings.

Those arguments aside, I want to discuss the problems that this focus on political correctness causes. It does a great deal of harm, and the Donald Trump campaign is clear evidence of that. When actually bigoted people are forced to watch what they say all the time, it does not eliminate their ideology. Instead, it forces that ideology to retreat to the shadows, where it grows and becomes more angry. When these people don’t say what they think in public, they become harder to find, and their bigotry becomes more difficult to confront, until it reaches a critical mass. That is what you have with the Donald Trump campaign. There is a tremendously large population of the American public which has been marginalized and disenfranchised. Granted, they are mostly fearful and hateful individuals who have very simplistic ideas about the functioning of society. But, they have been ostracized by the political correctness police, and now they have found a voice through a boisterous billionaire. This voice, in turn, translates into actual action like violence and public policy.

The other, and perhaps larger problem, is that the actual issues get swept under the rug. We fill our “I need to be a good person” desires by chastising someone for using the word pussy while the actual issue of sexism is forgotten. We spend all our time talking about Donald Trump’s ridiculous plan to ban all Muslims from the U.S., and we don’t spend any time talking about how to deal with religiously motivated violence in our own borders. The British parliament spends an entire day discussing banning Donald Trump from their territory, while hate crimes are at an all time high, and the world faces a refugee crisis. Sure, I use the words pussy and gay to satirically make certain points about things. But, I also provide a social justice scholarship each year to help students from marginalized groups in society attain an education. The point is that I choose to focus on the actual problem and do what I can to help address it. I don’t spend my time getting on my soapbox on Facebook or in casual conversations being offended by somebody’s use of language, especially if I know that person is not a bigot.

I have discussed this issue with many people who belong to the groups these words seem to be about. I have yet to find a homosexual person who really cares if I refer to something as gay. Instead, they prefer to discuss the real discrimination they face in employment, marriage, and other fundamental social aspects of their lives. I have yet to find a mentally handicapped person who cares if I call something retarded. Instead, they’re more preoccupied with completing an education. I have yet to meet a black person who cares about my use of the word “nigga” to refer to them or any other black person. They seem to care more about police brutality and a lack of due process in the justice system.

In my experience, political correctness is rarely a concern of the members of groups in society facing discrimination. The people I encounter who care so much about what others say are usually in a completely different boat. They are usually white, middle class or wealthy, young adults. They are usually people who have faced little adversity in their lives. While their intentions may be good, their methods are ill founded and misguided. They do more harm than good, creating a more divided society, rather than a more accepting and inclusive one.

This discussion I had two days ago began with us talking about the ethics of medical professionals participating in torture and military interrogations. As soon as I said the word “pussy,” though, the actual morality of torture was never discussed again. It was a living, breathing example of exactly what I have described here in my post.

4 Reasons to Think Twice Before Making a Practical Choice

'Pay bills, stick to a budget, plan ahead.'Practicality isn’t always a bad thing, but I was raised in a strictly practical home. Most life decisions were made based on their practical implications. How much return on investment does something have? How much money do we save by doing X instead of Y? Desires and wants were never considered. Through my experience, I’ve learned to always second guess a practical decision, and here’s why.

1. You Will Eventually Die – Do you think about that when you’re making a decision. Let’s say you save a dollar now; how does that matter in the grand scheme of things? Are you developing a habit that will save you $1 million dollars? If not, then maybe you should spend your time worrying about something other than that dollar since you only have a short time on this planet.

2. Practicality Prioritizes Things for You – In any practical outlook, priorities are implicit. Certain things are already deemed important, and by definition then, certain other things are deemed not as important. You should be the one making your priorities for yourself. Family, emotional well being, health, your relationship, and other things may get left by the wayside if you’re focusing strictly on the practical thing to do.

3. The Cool Factor – It matters much more than it used to. How many impractical things do people purchase because they’re cool? If you’re an entrepreneur, practicality isn’t a huge concern for the product you’re creating. Of course, it can’t make life more difficult, but the cool factor is what makes people by the iPhone 6 plus, when really, why would you otherwise?

4. Practicality Isn’t Innovative – Even if it’s an urban legend, flying a kite into a lightning storm isn’t practical. Practicality assumes things are the way they are and tries to work within that. It doesn’t seek to change the paradigm or reinvent things. Maybe the U.S. did invent a space pen when we could’ve used a pencil, but now we have a fucking space pen! Refer back to point 3.

“Money can’t buy Happiness….but Poverty can’t buy Shit.”


Many of us have grown up with lessons that portray money as evil, or at least as the root of evil. People who want a lot of money are bad and greedy. They are manipulative scum that take advantage of everyone else. This weekend, I had the privilege of meeting and listening to a number of these scumbag millionaires, and in some cases, billionaires. Remarkably, none of them were ruthless sleazy business men who took advantage of others to get where they were. Quite to the contrary, they were all people who had been taken advantage of and were seeking to add a great deal of value to the world. They created products and services to help others succeed. Granted, some products were better than others, but the products were universally value-adding objects that were designed to help people.

One of the speakers I listened to said something brilliant, and it’s the title of this post. The reality is that wanting a lot of money is not equivalent to greed. Most people want to be rich, and denying that desire is a very harmful emotional exercise. Not to mention, the people who are ready to admit that they want money are the ones who seem to end up really making that money.

So where does this perception of evil come from? One of the people I had the pleasure of meeting with explained it this way, “Money isn’t the root of all evil. The lust for money isn’t even the root of all evil. It’s the lust for unearned money that is the root of all evil.” People who want money without the will to work for it are the scum that everyone talks about. The reality is that there are many very wealthy people who have worked hard providing excellent quality services and contributing to the world. They have generated their net worth through ethical and legal means which do not seek to exploit others. On the other hand, there are many people who do quite the opposite.

The thing that both these groups have in common is that they want money, but that’s about it. This is the first group of very rich people I have seen stress the importance of striving to be a member of the group that has a love of earned money that one needs to work hard for. Money is not the antithesis of happiness, and you needn’t sacrifice your happiness to earn all the piles of money that you want, so long as you actually earn them.

I’m going to leave you with another little snippet from this weekend, and I hope it sits with you, “There are a ton of multi-millionaires in the world. People always ask, “Yeah, but are they happy?” …..Well, no shit, of course they’re happy, they’re multi-millionaires.”

Limiting Beliefs – What They Are and Why You Shouldn’t Have Them


You have limiting beliefs. So here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to understand what limiting beliefs are. You’re going to learn about all the problems they cause. Then, you’re going take a deep look inside yourself and find out what your limiting beliefs are, and you’re going to work on ridding yourself of those limiting beliefs. This may seem scary, or confusing if you don’t know what limiting beliefs are, but fear not, for I shall help guide you through this process.

What are Limiting Beliefs?

As the heading to this section suggests, let’s start by talking about what limiting beliefs are. A limiting belief is any belief you have which prevents you from doing something or hinders your ability to do it. These beliefs can manifest as a result of many different things such as your relationship with you parents, a traumatic life events, social conditioning, etc…

There are a couple questions which need to be addressed immediately. Limiting beliefs are always wrong. When I say ‘wrong’ I mean that they do not correspond to reality. The reason a limiting belief will always be incorrect is because a proper assessment of reality can never hold you back, even if the assessment identifies a roadblock to success. An accurate belief will allow you to navigate the world more effectively and actually accomplish what you would like to accomplish.

Identifying Limiting Beliefs

We are biologically constructed to have limiting beliefs, but we are also biologically constructed to have adverse physical reactions when we process or think about these beliefs. Concurrently, and I’ll elaborate more on this in the next section, we are biologically constructed to physically resonate with actual reality. Through our perceptions, we have an actual print of reality somewhere in our minds. When we cognitively process that image and put it into words our brains can consciously work with, we recognize that, and it triggers a physiological response. So how can you identify limiting beliefs?

Throughout your day, you will find yourself thinking about particular assessments of the world and of other people. When you think about these things, take a moment to look at how your body is responding. Do you have a dull weight-like pain in your solar plexus? Have you started sweating a little bit more? Are the muscles in your back and neck suddenly carrying more tension? Are you losing track of where you are and what you’re doing because you’re lost in your thoughts? Are you losing motivation to act? Is your mood becoming increasingly sad or worried? If you answered yes to most of these questions, then you are processing a limiting belief.

Let’s take a common example that many students deal with. The belief looks something like this, “My major gives me way more work than anyone else.” When students, particularly in the hard sciences, think about the work they are faced with, they often have the adverse physiological responses mentioned above. This belief is perpetuated throughout our college education system by students and faculty alike. The trouble is that this belief limits a student’s ability to act to resolve the tasks they have to complete. The student accepts his/her reality as one of constantly being stressed and overloaded with work. In reality, the national average of difference in hours of weekly work between the most demanding and least demanding majors is approximately 5 hours. That’s it, 5 hours over a 7 day week, less than one hour per day. However, stress assessments of students across the country consistently show that students studying in the “more demanding” majors have much higher stress levels completely disproportionate to the amount of work they have to do. The reason for this is that the limiting belief prevents students from actually searching for ways to improve their workflow and task management. It also prevents them from completing their work as efficiently as they would otherwise.

There are some key types of limiting beliefs you need to be aware of. One type is the example used above. It’s a perpetuated inaccuracy about a quantitative aspect of reality. Another good example is, “There aren’t enough hours in the day for everything I need to do.” Another type of limiting belief is a perpetuated inaccuracy about a qualitative aspect of reality. So, for example, “Engineering is harder than Anthropology.” There is quantifiable way to measure “harder,” and the difficulty of any discipline is relative to the person studying it. A final type of limiting belief you should be aware of is the affirmation. Sometimes, limiting beliefs will disguise themselves as false appreciations or happiness. For example, “I am happy with my relationship,” or, “My career is right on track.”

Learning to identify your limiting beliefs is the first step to getting rid of them and opening up your world to an entirely new set of possibilities.

Getting Rid of Your Limiting Beliefs

As I mentioned earlier, we are biologically constructed to resonate with reality. Think about any time in your life when you have had an epiphany. Relive the physical responses that your body underwent. You probably sat up straighter, your eyes widened, you facial muscles lost tension, etc… The reason is because your brain recognized that you had processed an image of reality which you already had but were not consciously aware of.

Let’s think about this logically. For every statement you make like this ones I used as examples above, there are a total of five logical permutations. One of these permutations must be true. Let me use an example to explain what I mean. Take the statement, “All apples are red.” It has the following 4 permutations:

All apples are red
All apples are not red
Not all apples are red
Not all apples are not red

At least one of these statements has to be true. And, you may have noticed that when reading them, you realized that #3 and #4 were both true, and you probably responded to that realization physically in some way. In order to rid yourself of your limiting beliefs, you need to phrase them in the statement form like this one and write down each of their permutations. Then, read the statements aloud to yourself. When you get to the one (or two) which are true, you will know it immediately. Some of these realizations may scare you initially, and you may be reluctant to accept them. The key to ridding yourself of these beliefs is to approach the process with a completely open mind.

Once you arrive at reality, you will no longer cling to your limiting belief. The next step is to actually act on your newly discovered knowledge. If your realization is about another person, go talk to them about it. If it’s about your work management, talk to people who can teach you ways to better manage your time. Acting on your realizations reinforces them and prevents your limiting beliefs from taking hold again.

I realize this may seem like a tall task, but it is definitely manageable. Follow this simple outline, and you will become a completely new person.

Good luck!

Morality Without God: Does it Make Sense?

This has been the question for quite some time. Before I begin talking about this contentious issue, let me be clear. I am not asking whether or not atheists can have morals. Obviously, they can. Morals can exist without a belief in God. How do I know this? I have met atheists who have a sense of right and wrong. The real question I want to tackle is whether or not it logically makes sense to attribute “right” and “wrong” to anything without a concept of eternal consequences. The answer is no, it doesn’t make sense. Here’s why.

There are two types of ethical constructs, deontological and consequentialist. All moral frameworks fall into these two categories. Let’s start with deontological frameworks. Every such theory begins with a presumption of some eternal end toward which every good action strives or which every human character is developed. Therefore, the concept of eternity is already built into the deontological construct. Deontology is predicated upon the existence of some eternal result which does not abide by the constraints of temporality. I have also never met a deontological atheist, nor heard of one. With that in mind, we can safely say that deontological moral systems do not make sense without some conception of eternity to back them up.

The more contentious, and important I think, to discuss are the consequentialist systems like utilitarianism. Most all atheists I have met are consequentialist in some fashion or another. Their moralities are predicated upon principles of doing good, not causing harm, helping other people, etc. In other words, an action’s “goodness” is determined by the consequences it has, and certain consequences like causing suffering are bad while others like causing happiness are good. Independent of the individual problems with these theories is the question of whether or not they can logically function without the existence of eternal consequences.

Well, I contend that the answer seems pretty simple. How can a system which determines morality based upon consequences work if consequences don’t last forever. What do I mean by this?

Well, let’s take a fairly common principle: murder is wrong. Ok, well, why is murder wrong in the consequentialist world? Because it causes death, or pain, which are both bad. But here’s the problem; everybody is going to die anyway. And if there is nothing after death, then why is killing somebody so wrong? Because you violated their rights? Well, they were going to die anyway. So why do their rights matter now? What is the consequence of me killing somebody? They die, which they were going to anyway. I get the death penalty (worst case scenario), but I was going to die anyway. In the world without God, the final consequence of every action or chain of actions is death. Therefore, every action ultimately holds the same moral value, which is no value at all.

Let’s make this more complicated. Where do we draw the line of consequences? Suppose you save somebody’s life, but that person turns out to be a serial killer. How do we evaluate your original life saving action? Some would say we value immediate consequences only because we cannot see that far into the future. Well, then the Heaven/Hell system seems better because it already has eternal consequences in place, so the problem of being able to see the final consequence is eliminated.

But ok, let’s agree for the sake of argument that we can attach value to temporal consequences. How do we attach that value? Well, every society does it on its own, right? So, we’re left with an absolutely relativist system in which no morality is better than the next. We can determine which moralities are better though, based upon the benefit/harm that they cause, right? The problem is that the evaluations and definitions of benefit/harm are also relative, and we’re back to square one.

Eternal consequence is necessary for any moral system to logically make sense.

Judith Jarvis Thomson and her Dying Violinist

Judith Jarvis Thomson

For those of you who are not familiar with Dr. Thomson, she is the author of the very popular and influential work “A Defense of Abortion” in which she argues, quite effectively for many, in favor of a woman’s right to choose an abortion. Lately, I have found that many non-academics and philosopher types are becoming aware of Thomson’s argument, which has been dubbed the violinist argument, and incorporating it into their own canon of pro-choice literary reserves. Unfortunately, of all such people I have encountered, very few have actually read Thomson’s work or taken the time to understand the argument, let alone logic in general. Rather, they have heard a summarized version of the argument. In reality, Thomson’s argument should not be convincing to anyone who can think critically or analyze arguments. My recent irritation has led me to write this post detailing precisely why the argument is not even really an argument. This is not to say that a woman should not have the right choose, but rather that I feel it is necessary to clear up the uninformed discourse which pervades this issue.

In “A Defense of Abortion” (the full text of which is linked below) Thomson attempts to eliminate the problem with calling the fetus a life. In short, her argument contends that it is possible to have the right to violate somebody’s right to life. The pro-life argument follows as such:

1. It is wrong to take an innocent human’s life.

2. The fetus is an innocent human.

3. Therefore, it is wrong to take the fetus’s life.

Most people find contention with the second step, arguing that the fetus is not a human life. Most everyone will agree that it is wrong to take an innocent human’s life for obvious reasons (social contract, value of human life, respecting human dignity, whatever philosophical justification you choose to adopt). Thomson, however, gives her analogy of a violinist and argues that it would be OK to let the violinist die in this case. The trouble, though, is that she never argues it would be OK, she just says it would, without providing any justification for it and hoping people will agree with her on emotional appeal, which a good number of people do. Her argument is as follows.

1. You wake up, and the Society of Music Lovers has kidnapped you. You have been hooked up to a violinist with a deadly kidney disease so that your kidneys can filter poison from him because you are the only person in the world who can save the violinist.

2. You are informed that the violinist’s right to life outweighs your rights, and therefore, you cannot disconnect the violinist until his ailment is cured, however long that may take.

3. Your reaction to this command is that it is absurd.

4. Therefore, there is a problem with the pro life argument which says that the baby’s right to life outweighs the mother’s right to her own body.

Well, this may sound like a convincing train of thought. However, a very brief examination will reveal that it is really not an argument at all. Thomson has simply provided an analogy which makes pregnancy look like a ridiculous burden. I’m surprised she needed an analogy to do that in the first place. The problem with her argument lies primarily in part 3 and the link between 3 and 4. First, the reaction may not necessarily be one of visceral opposition. I, for one, would recognize the situation I have been placed in and accept that, regardless of my suffering, killing an innocent person would be a far more egregious moral crime, and I would not disconnect the violinist. Continually, Thomson never provides a link which merits the “Therefore” in part 4 of her argument. Just because your reaction to the situation is a negative one, why does that entail that the moral obligation to keep the violinist alive does not exist? This logic would mean that peoples’ emotional reactions to moral questions determine the right thing to do. In this case, we would have to legitimize terrorist actions. It is further surprising to me that a philosopher would so blatantly use emotional appeal to support an argument and that the academic community would so readily hop on the bandwagon.

In short, the argument is not an argument. Thomson’s article is weak and should not have been published. Most importantly, people should stop trying to convince me to be pro-choice using Thomson’s argument without actually having read her work, let alone having understood the argument. There are far better arguments for a woman’s right to choose, and it is tragic and severely irritating to see people clinging to the violinist to vehemently.

For the full text of “A Defense of Abortion”


What Morally Separates Suicide From Murder?

There is a long tradition of people who contend that suicide is not morally impermissible. Yet, I am not convinced. I have a simple question which I believe demonstrates the immorality of suicide. I have not yet received an answer from anyone I have asked. So I open this discourse up to you. The question is below; please feel free to share your thoughts.

Murder is immoral because it violates somebody’s right to life. My rights only extend to the point where your rights begin. So, when I use my rights to violate yours, it is immoral/unjust.

My question is why my rights are different. Why is it morally permissible for me to use my rights to violate my own? Why does my autonomy extend beyond my right to life (if it does)?

“I Can’t Help It!” – Is Addiction a Disease?

There is an increasing movement, particularly in the medical community, to classify addictions as diseases, and to gear “treatment” for them accordingly. Medical professionals are claiming more and more that the biological elements of an addiction outweigh any choice element the individual may have. I completely disagree with this position. It is a position that is not motivated by actual reality, but rather by a mistaken perception of the increased utility of a different perspective. In this post, I want to discuss some of the common arguments supporting the disease theory of addiction and contend that they are misguided.

The first argument I want to discuss is perhaps the most common. It is articulated by Dr. John Halpern in his 2002 article “Addiction is a Disease“. Like many other medical professionals, Halpern contends that there must be a dominant biological component of addiction because people would otherwise stop once they realized that the harms outweigh the benefits. This argument seems to make sense, but you don’t have to be an incisive scholar to point out all the things that are wrong with it. The condition that people need to realize that the harms outweigh the benefits is complicated enough in itself. Different people place different value on different things. If we all thought about potential harms and benefits in a reasoned way, then nobody would go bungee jumping or skydiving. People wouldn’t eat fast food, and there would be no such thing as Olympic gymnastics. Yet, nobody will claim that proclivity toward these behaviors is a disease. The gymnast who trains from the age of seven to win the gold medal at the Olympics is applauded. However, she has likely done irreparable damage to her body, shortened her lifespan, and altered her metabolism for the rest of her life. Not to mention, such training is incredibly emotionally taxing as well. Is that worth the Olympic gold? To some, it definitely is. To others, it really isn’t. This argument ignores the subjectivity of value systems. As outsiders, we can easily sit back and say that the harms of addiction outweigh any perceived benefits, but we don’t actually understand the extent of those perceived benefits. Addicts do not make this distinction as easily. Continually, this argument assumes that people behave in a reasonable fashion when faced with obvious facts. If this were true, there would be no suicide bombing. The global warming problem would be solved, and there would be no nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, most of the world does not operate reasonably. This does not mean, however, that everyone has some sort of disease.

Research studies further contend that repeated use of an addictive substance can alter structures in the brain or body which make it much more difficult to stop. I do not dispute this point. In fact, it is fairly obvious that toxic substances will alter one’s body and mind. However, the point to be noted is that this exposure needs to be repeated. This means that, before a certain point, the power of choice is far greater than any biological imperative. As such, the person can prevent themselves from going down the addiction path to begin with. Granted, the willpower required to overcome an addiction is much greater than the willpower required to prevent an addiction. The point is that, in both instances, willpower is what is required. More importantly, any change in neurological chemistry occurs as a result of the behavior. This means that it is the person’s actions which lead to their body being damaged or altered. The biology does not precipitate the behavior, but rather the other way around. As such, it is difficult to claim that addiction is a disease.

Those arguments aside, there are a lot of problems with the disease theory of addiction. It directs efforts in a misguided way to try and find a “cure.” Unfortunately, you cannot cure an addiction with other chemicals. A person can be forcibly detoxed in a hospital, and the symptoms of detox can be managed with medication, but that is the extent of what can be done. A person can be “weened” off tobacco, but that requires giving them doses of nicotene. This is no different than anti-depressants. The pills help the symptoms of depression, but they don’t get rid of the underlying problem(s) causing the depression to begin with. Furthermore, the disease approach divests the addict of responsibility. If an alcoholic kills somebody drunk driving, they can’t claim that they are subject to a disease, and that disease made their behaviors uncontrollable. Addiction is not an unavoidable uncontrollable mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The person is aware of what they are doing, and they are doing it voluntarily. I will grant that the decision to say “No” is not an easy one. Addiction is a very difficult problem to overcome, but that does not make it a disease.

So what does all this mean? I can sit here and say that addiction isn’t a disease, but I should also provide a way to interpret addiction which is better, should I not? Well, logically speaking, I don’t have to, but I will nonetheless. Addiction is a behavior which can be caused by a variety of emotional problems. Some people become more prone to addictions because of abuse, social circumstances, or the need for affection. People can have issues with their parents, or be troubled by the loss of a loved one, and all these things can make them more prone to trying addictive substances. When it comes to cigarettes, social circumstances are likely what cause most people to become addicted. People want to fit in or look cool, and that leads them to indulge in these substances. Like depression and anxiety, addiction is an emotional state associated with particular chemical states in the brain. However, it is best addressed not through medication, but through interactive therapy. Inpatient residential care is an option for those suffering from addition. Addiction can be managed, but only cured if the underlying problem which led to it in the first place is addressed, just like depression and anxiety. At the same time, it is up to the addict to seek help. There are effective therapies for addiction, like an individual therapy, but none of them work if the addict does not have the will to follow through.

Throughout history, mental problems and illnesses have been stigmatized and addressed using a variety of illegitimate methods from genital mutilation to shock therapy. As a response, the modern medical community is attempting to treat mental issues like other biological illnesses which can be treated using medications or surgical procedures. Unfortunately, mental issues are more complicated. They are not caused by pathogens, and their associated chemical states cannot be easily addressed by biological interventions. There is a middle ground, however, which does not stigmatize psychiatric issues, and yet does not medicalize them either. These issues need to be better understood in the context of the individual to which they apply, and therapies need to be developed to address them. This will require a more in depth understanding of the person, and it is difficult territory to navigate. Nevertheless, difficulty does not mean that the path is the wrong one to take.

One Man’s Right is Another Man’s Left – The Basis of Our Morality

Most people seem to possess some conception of right and wrong. Granted, the conception differs from person to person, and some people seem to have one that is drastically removed from that found in the rest of society, but each person nevertheless exhibits their own sense of morality. The important question is where this morality comes from. Philosophers have argued for several causes which generally fall into two categories: internal and external. Either a person’s sense of morality comes from within them as a natural occurrence or is developed by some external influence.

I don’t want to talk about what is actually right or wrong. I intend only to examine the possible bases of a person’s morality. There are differences between moral codes all across the world. I also have to mention that I distinguish morality from all its manifestations. Law, religion, etiquette, and all such codes are manifestations of morality, not potential bases for it. Rather, morality is a partial basis for all these things i.e. these codes are societal applications of moral principles.

Your Moral Innards

With that, let’s get started. The traditional internal cause of morality is regarded to be reason, deriving from idealist theories of epistemology. Idealists place morality in the category of knowledge. Because humans possess innate knowledge of all things, or at least the ability to recall or arrive at that knowledge by the use of the innate capacity of reason, they must innately have morality. In his dialogue, Meno, Plato answers the question of how humans attain knowledge by proposing that humans have an immortal soul. The soul has died and has been born again many times. Therefore, it has seen all things that exist “whether in this world or in the world below”[1] and possesses knowledge of all these things. In Crito, Plato furthers this concept of epistemology to include moral judgments, rejecting the idea that society’s collective morality ought to be valued, and embracing the idea that there is a universal sense of right and wrong. In the dialogue, Socrates explains to Crito, “I only wish it were so, Crito; and that the many could do the greatest evil; for then they would also be able to do the greatest goo-and what a fine thing this would be! But in reality they can do neither; for they cannot make a man either wise or foolish; and whatever they do is the result of chance.”[2] Socrates rejects the concept that society can influence the knowledge of man, and in so doing, rejects that society can determine morality. Rather, Socrates argues that we “must not regard what the many say of us: but what he, the one man who has understanding of just and unjust, will say, and what the truth will say.”[3] The one man Socrates refers to, and the concept of truth he refers to, are both equitable to reason, both as an element of the Platonic and Socratic epistemologies and as per Socrates’ confirmation in the dialogue, “I am and always have been one of those natures who must be guided by reason, whatever the reason may be which upon reflection appears to me to be the best.”[4] As such Socrates poses the conclusion that morality is innate, and this conclusion is based upon the premise that absolute knowledge and reason are innate.

Several arguments appear to mitigate this idealist view of morality. First, the premise of the argument is flawed. If in fact Plato’s argument of absolute knowledge resulting from an immortal soul is true, then humans must possess absolute knowledge of metaphysical principles and absolute knowledge of religious truths. This doesn’t realistically seem to be the case. People still wage wars in the name of what they perceive to be the correct religion, and philosophers to this day argue about the most basic questions of the metaphysical world. It would seem, if Plato’s reasoning were correct, that society would be able to arrive at a consensus regarding moral questions, rather than only a few select individuals being able to arrive at the truth.

As another flaw in the premise of Plato’s moral reasoning, he establishes, in his Theory of Recollection, sense perception as the starting point for the attainment of all knowledge.[5] But, morality cannot be sensibly experienced. We can gather empirical evidence regarding the value of certain moral or ethical theories such as utilitarianism, but that doesn’t support experiential learning as the basis for moral conclusion.The moral theory or principle preempts the evidence regarding it i.e. we arrive at moral conclusions through reasoning and then test their validity empirically afterwards.

Aside from the epistemological premise, Plato’s conclusion about morality being innate is further subject to its own problems. If morality was innate, then it would be universal. Logically following from idealism, there is only one set of knowledge, or one set of truths, and that would include moral truths. However, different people exhibit different conceptions of right and wrong, meaning that morality cannot be innate, or at least, that it cannot be impervious to external influence. In fact, by acknowledging that there is a collective societal morality and that certain individuals possess moral conceptions separate from that of society, Plato acknowledges that one’s moral cognition is subject to external influence. Further, because morality is subject to external influence, certain individuals would possess moralities resulting from society’s collective influence, as Socrates himself admits by admitting that the many posses a collective opinion about just and unjust[6], regardless of whether or not we should regard that opinion as valuable.

The next possible internal cause of morality is God. God is classified here is an internal cause because, as per deist theory, He exists a priori, before any human experience. The question central to God being the basis of morality is whether or not God actually determines if something is right or wrong. Does God makes something good by approving of it, or does God approve of something because it is already good?[7]

Plato supports the latter of these two arguments, arguing that what is good is good because it is good, meaning that God isn’t a cause or basis of morality. Plato bases his argument on the logic that, “A thing is not seen because it is in a state of being seen; it is in a state of being seen because it is seen.”[8] As such, according to Plato, holiness must be in a state of holiness because it is holy, not for any other reason, meaning that God does not determine holiness by loving it but rather loves it because it is holy. Further, Plato argues that God loves that which is pleasing to Him because it is pleasing to Him, and it is not pleasing to Him because He loves it. Consequently, holiness and that which is pleasing to God are two separate things.[9]

Plato’s argument appears weak in several respects. It isa semantic argument, and in terms of semantics, it isn’t logically sound. All the verbal logic Plato uses refers to states of being which require active participation from an external entity. For example, in order for something to be seen, something has to see it. This is not necessarily the case with holiness, as holiness is an attribute when it refers to moral principles rather than a state of being. So, the verbal logic doesn’t work because Plato is considering different parts of speech. Let’s take the analogy of a canvas that was painted blue by a painter. The question can be asked, is that canvas blue because it is blue i.e. it reflects blue wavelengths and absorbs all others, or is it blue because the painter painted it blue i.e. assigned the attribute of “blueness” to the canvas? The answer is both. Of course the canvas is blue because it reflects particular wavelengths, but it would not be reflecting those wavelengths had the painter not painted it as such. This logic can then be applied to holiness or good. Good is good because it is intrinsically good i.e. it naturally exhibits all the properties of “goodness.” However, if that is true, it does not preclude that God did not assign these attributes to that thing which is good. Plato’s argument does not logically work when applied to particular attributes or adjectives, only to states of being or verbs.

Therefore, Plato’s implication of separating holiness from that which is pleasing to God is flawed as well. Granted, God loves something which is pleasing to him because it is pleasing to him, but that does not mean that God did not make it pleasing to himself. For example, people decorate rooms in their homes so they are pleasing to look at. As such, the rooms are pleasing to those people because they are pleasing to them, but they are pleasing to those people because they made them pleasing. The same situation could occur with God defining what is good. Plato does not eliminate this possibility and does not sufficiently prove his own argument either.

But what if, in fact, good is good because it is loved by God? If God can attribute good and evil, then could he not make good that which is now evil? Could murder and rape not be deemed just by Him? The response is yes, of course they could. In God’s omnipotence, he could very well attribute these distinctions. So what if God assigned these attributions? Logistically, humans would have no knowledge of it. Just as now, they would accept those moral principles. We accept certain actions such as charity to be morally good. However, if God has made it that way, then we would be in the same state of acceptance no matter what God deemed to be good. Take for example the analogy of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Most people fear such an existence arguing that it is a complete subversion of one’s autonomy, and there would be no fulfillment in such an existence. What most people ignore is that one would be completely unaware of this lack of fulfillment. There would be no point of relativity form which to judge one’s existence because knowledge of all other forms of existence would not be available, resulting in blissful acceptance. The same applies to God defining morality; people would not be aware of any prior definitions. Second, God would not logically designate an evil act as one that is good despite his ability to do so; it would be ungodly to do so. In defining God, deist theory uses certain attributes: all powerful, all merciful, all just, all knowing, etc…If God made good that which is evil, he would be contradicting his very own properties of godliness, no longer being all just. For example, God would not make himself human, despite his ability to do so, because it would be ungodly. Humanity precludes mortality, imperfection, and dependence, all of which are characteristics unbecoming of a deity. Hence, God would not do something ungodly, meaning he would not assign good to that which is evil.

George Mavrodes poses his own arguments about why God is a basis for morality. He argues 1) God or religion is in fact needed because He gives us reason to act morally and 2) A religious basis for morality gives morality the deep significance or value that it needs.[10]

Mavrodes’ argument, however, does very little in the way of providing a convincing argument as to why God or religion is a basis for morality. The chief issues with his arguments are that they are non unique and carry little to no impact. I will explain what this means. Mavrodes’ first argument exhibits both of these problems. It doesn’t leave God as the only viable option. People can have self-interest, reason, emotion, or a variety of other options as their motivation to fulfill their moral duties. It further carries no impact because Mavrodes never argues that motivation to fulfill moral duty is a necessity. Why do we even need a reason to be moral?

The second argument is just as bad. For the sake of argument, we can agree that there are few, if any other, options which carry the same deepness or significance of a religious basis for morality. But, Mavrodes fails to explain why morality has to be deep or significant. Why can’t morality be superficial, trivial, or perhaps even arbitrary? Mavrodes’ arguments rely on unexamined assumptions and unverified premises. In this way, his arguments offer little in the way of a convincing argument for religious basis for morality.

Finally, there are the other internal causes of morality separate from those already mentioned. These include Hobbes’s explanation that all human conventions of morality stem from innate self-interest[11] and David Hume’s argument that human morality stems from emotions, because even reason is flawed in that it is subject to the emotions,[12] among other similar theories.

While all such theories are tempting to adopt, they are flawed in their simplicity, and they all acknowledge exceptions. Hobbes, for example, addresses the role of human conscience in determining morality. He argues that, while conscience may exist innately, it is easily manipulated society or events that may occur in a person’s life.[13] In this way, Hobbes acknowledges an external influence on human morality, rejecting his own argument for the universal determinant of self interest. Furthermore, Hobbes even admits the exceptional ability of some individuals to be altruistic[14], again denying his theory of self interest. The same problems exist with Hume. While Hume argues that human emotions make reason flawed, that is all they do, make it flawed. Emotions may be a flaw with human beings and their ability to reason, but they do not eliminate the existence of reason, and they do not eliminate reason as a partial basis for morality. Singular internal cause theories such as those of Hobbes and Hume attempt to oversimplify and, in so doing, sufficiently mitigate their potential validity.

It’s Raining Morality?

The main possible external cause of morality identified by philosophers is society, including all its elements such as family, culture, educational institutions, etc…The argument for an external basis for morality is demonstrated perfectly by Herodotus when he echoes Pindar’s sentiment, “Custom is the king o’er all.”[15] Benedict and Mackie both pose similar arguments, and both site similar empirical analysis, relying on the observations that different societies exhibit varying sets of moral principles.

The problem with all these theories, and why they cannot be legitimately considered as definitions for the basis of morality, is that they are all arguments in support of moral relativism. They do not legitimately prove societal influence to be the cause or basis of morality. Rather, they argue by inference that, because all societies exhibit differing senses of morality, that societal influence must be the cause of these moral codes. Mackie, for example, simply poses an argument of logic. He argues that the default position is that of moral relativism, because that is what empirical evidence demonstrates. Mackie then questions why we ought not to accept the reality for what we see it to be? Why must we try to identify other causes, namely universal ones? In this way, Mackie attempts to argue by placing the burden of proof on the opposing side.[16] Mackie’s argument is rather like the Occam’s razor of morality, arguing that there is no reason to unnecessarily complicate moral theory; the simplest explanation is the best.

The issues with this argument are that 1) it does not establish societal influence as the basis of morality by any active legitimate reasoning but rather by default, and such argument holds little or no value in the face of competing theories and 2) it does not sufficiently mitigate the possibility of the existence of an objective moral reality. Mackie attempts to disprove the existence of a universal morality, and therefore a universal cause for it, by arguing that relativism is the default position because it is observable. Although he does effectively place the burden of proof on the opposing side, he does little more to prove his actual argument. Hobbes’ theory of self interest arguably possesses an incredible amount of empirical proof because human self interest is directly observable in the everyday actions of most every person. Further, with Mackie’s logic, it can also be noted that societal moralities exhibit several similarities. For example, the vast majority of societies agree that it is wrong to kill innocent children. These similarities would indicate empirical evidence contrary to the conclusion formed by relativist theorists. It would rather indicate there is some common basis for morality other than societal influence.

The second flaw with Mackie’s analysis, and relativist analysis in general, is far greater. Relativist theory does not prove that there is no objective moral reality, only that humans cannot arrive at one. Granted, people exhibit differing moralities, but that does not mean that moral truths do not exist. Arguably, every moral question has a right answer. The death penalty is either just or unjust. Abortion is either wrong or not wrong. All Mackie proves, if his arguments are accepted to be valid, is that people cannot arrive at an objective moral truth; it does not comment whatsoever on whether or not that objective moral truth actually exists.

Rather than the moral relativists, interestingly enough, those philosophers who argue for singular causes, such as those mentioned in the internal bases section of this paper, seem to provide far more reasonable and convincing arguments to demonstrate how society can be a basis for morality.

So Where Does it Come From?

Upon examination of the possible bases for morality, no singular cause can be conclusively identified. Every theory has its merits and demerits, some perhaps with more of the latter. Rather than a single cause, whether it be external or internal, a person’s moral sensibilities probably result from a combination of causes. Humans possess the innate capacity to reason, and that capacity leads us to arrive at certain conclusions that form components of our moral code such as determinations of justice and human rights. This reason, however, is definitely flawed. Self interest and emotions, also innate within human beings, play a significant role in influencing our judgment. We preclude many of our moral principles, often despite our better reasoning, upon what will grant us the most benefit, or even upon some instinctual emotion that does not exhibit any purpose at all. God, assuming he exists, must also inevitably determine his own set of moral principles for people, revealing the desired moral code in His Holy Scriptures. Nevertheless, despite these internal causes, society is also a determinate factor for morality. How a person is raised, the people they encounter throughout their life, the government they live under, and the education they acquire all influence their sense of right and wrong. Every person’s morality is constantly growing and changing.

[1] Plato, “Meno,” Dialogues of Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1896).

[2] Plato, “Crito,” Dialogues of Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1896): 2

[3] Ibid: 3

[4] Ibid: 2

[5] Pojman, Louis. “The Theory of the Forms and Doctrine of Recollection.”Introduction to Philosophy Classical and Contemporary Readings. 4th ed. 2008.

[6] Ibid. 2:4

[7] As a matter of logic, it is important to note that these questions and the applicable arguments all presume that God exists. While it is a debatable point, the assumption exists here for the sake of argument. Further, I refer to the deity as God, again for the sake of argument, while that point is also debatable.

[8] Plato, “Euthyphro,” Dialogues of Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1889)

[9] Ibid.

[10] Pojman, Louis. “Religion and the Queerness of Morality.”Introduction to Philosophy Classical and Contemporary Readings. 4th ed. 2008.

[11] Hobbes, Thomas, (1651). Leviathan.  15 December 2008: http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hobbes/thomas/h68l/

[12] Hume, David, “An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals,” 1751

[13] Ibid. 14

[14] Ibid.

[15] Herodotus, “History of Herodotus,” trans. Geroge Rawlinson New York: Appleton 1859

[16] Pojman, Louis. “The Subjectivity of Values,” Introduction to Philosophy Classical and Contemporary Readings. 4th ed. 2008.

Hippocratic Hypocrites – Doctors Who Torture

The involvement of medical professionals in military torture is not a recent phenomena. In fact, it has been occurring for centuries. However, such involvement did not become an important public issue until the advent of Nazi Germany. The unspeakable atrocities committed by Nazi doctors on concentration camp captives were well documented, and the public was made aware of them. Because of their hideously appalling nature, massive scale, and systematic execution, these actions were met with tremendous condemnation by the medical community, though torture had been carried out by countless medical professionals in the past. Nevertheless, over 60 years removed from Hitler’s Germany, we still find medical professionals assisting military personnel in carrying out “specialized interrogations.” In this post, I intend to address the question of whether or not it is especially wrong for medical professionals to participate in torture. Is there something about the profession which makes it particularly reprehensible for a doctor to facilitate military torture?

I have a problem with the idea that a profession ought to dictate a moral code for the person adopting said profession. This sort of mentality is riddled with inconsistencies that few realize. Holding people like politicians, doctors, and others to higher standards is a strictly emotional enterprise that is unfair and very poorly thought out. Worst of all, it draws attention away from the actual crime being committed, and it legitimizes the action if carried out by somebody else. Let me try and explain what I mean.

We consider hypocrisy to be a bad thing. The problem is that hypocrisy is only bad when the action in question is bad. Consider the example of tobacco company executive. Based upon his job, he should be walking around convincing teenagers to smoke, shouldn’t he? If he stops his 18 year old son from picking up a smoking habit, isn’t he being a hypocrite? Yet, nobody is going to criticize that man for stopping his child from smoking. In that scenario, people manage to mentally separate the two roles of father and executive. They can’t manage, however, to do the same with doctors.

Let’s apply this to a doctor facilitating a military torture action or interrogation. The doctor is no longer acting as a doctor. He is now occupying an entirely different space, a new ontological niche in the social order. The people who claim it is unethical for doctors to participate in torture are the same ones who think torture is unethical in itself. The converse is also true. The doctor who tortures or facilitates torture is acting as a special military interrogator. And in that capacity, he is doing his job. We can argue about whether or not the job itself is unethical, but that is an entirely separate issue.

What really separates a medical professional from anyone else that would torture somebody? The only difference is a body of specialized knowledge. Medical professionals have an intricate understanding of the human body and its operations, and therefore can be instrumentally effective torture machines. We have the mistaken feeling, however, that certain bodies of knowledge have a moral code attached to them. Just because somebody has an MD, it doesn’t make them a saint, nor does it prescribe any necessary moral system. What if somebody was educated in marketing? They could develop ad campaigns for teddy bears, or they could develop ad campaigns for cigarettes. They also possess a specialized body of knowledge, yet nobody is up in arms when marketing training is used to sell harmful products.

These problems aside, the real issue is that focus is drawn away from the actual. The problem isn’t that doctors are participating in torture. Rather, the problem is torture is occurring. Furthermore, if it is especially wrong for doctors to commit such actions, then the necessary implication is that it is not as wrong for others. This principle also cannot be applied in the law. Do we give harsher punishments to doctors who kill people versus butchers who kill people? That doesn’t really make sense, does it? And yet, the moral principles most people argue for would dictate such a system of punishment.

The medical community is in a special position to criticize torture and actually achieve tangible results in terms of mitigating the frequency of its use. This body of individuals has a specialized knowledge of the human body which can dramatically influence peoples’ opinions about torture. Instead of attacking it head on, though, they choose to focus only on members of their own community. This essentially says, “Well, it’s ok for you to do it, but we don’t want our people doing it.” This is a terrible approach and tremendously limits any change which would occur otherwise.

People should examine their gut emotional reactions to things to see if they actually make sense. Most people “feel” certain ways about a great deal of issues, but they don’t really know why. More importantly, they try and find logical justifications and just end up placing straw barriers around their fragile opinions, barriers which can be blown down by the lightest breeze. Instead, try taking a minute to think about, examine, and understand your feelings.