pageok
pageok
pageok
Hear the Moral Testimony of the Immune System:

I was just reading leading conservative bioethicist Leon Kass on organ transplants — he reluctantly approves of them generally, but categorically rejects any compensation for organ providers (compensation for the organ transplanters is just fine). Here's one paragraph that particularly struck me; recall that this isn't just psychological description, but part of a broader moral argument:

Regarding the recipients of transplantation, there is some primordial revulsion over confusion of personal identity, implicit in the thought of walking around with someone else's liver or heart. To be sure, for most recipients, life with mixed identity is vastly preferable to the alternative, and the trade is easily accepted. Also, the alien additions are tucked safely inside, hidden from sight. Yet transplantation as such — especially of vital organs — troubles the easygoing presumption of self-in-body, and ceases to do so only if one comes to accept a strict person-body dualism or adopts, against the testimony of one's own lived experience, the proposition that a person is or lives only in his brain-and-or-mind. Even the silent body speaks up to oppose transplantation, in the name of integrity, selfhood, and identity: its immune system, which protects the body against all foreign intruders, naturally rejects tissues and organs transplanted from another body.

This is poetry, it seems to me, not argument. The images and concepts are vivid enough, but the logical connections seem to be to missing. The self-consciously self-contradictory metaphor of "the silent body speaks up" exemplifies it best. If you really "listen" to what the silent body "says," you'll hear it speaking up against:

  1. All major surgery, which causes excruciating pain and is usually sure to kill the patient without special care being taken to overcome the body's natural patterns of susceptibility to infection, shock, blood loss, and so on (much like the care taken to overcome the body's immune system).

  2. Childbirth, which likewise causes excruciating pain and often kills the patient without special — and in many ways highly unnatural — modern medical treatment.

  3. Blood transfusions, which likewise trigger the immune system at least if one doesn't take care to do proper blood typing — though in some ethnically highly homogeneous groups that's not a problem; is the silent body speaking up against racial mixing?

To the extent the body "speaks," it doesn't speak about what is right. It speaks about what is likely to happen. We should "listen" to it, but in order to make our interventions more effective, not in order to decide what is morally right or wrong.

This is, I think, a variant of the Is-Ought problem, with a dollop of coming to believe one's own metaphors. A procedure is physically dangerous; therefore it ought to be seen as morally troubling. A procedure is revolting to many people (as are prostate exams, I suppose, or changing diapers); therefore we ought to assume that it's presumptively improper. If we'd consistently adopted such an approach, in what century would medicine be stranded?

UPDATE: My favorite comment so far, from commenter Dave Griffith: "As someone with an auto-immune problem, I presumably am passing histological moral judgements against myself. I'll admit it's probably a fair cop in my case, but that's beside the point."

CJColucci:
This is Leon Kass. This is what he does. This, apparently, is all he does. He manages, somehow, to get paid for it, and to be treated as someone whose opinions are worth listening to. One of life's many mysteries.
9.28.2006 2:13pm
James Ellis (mail):
I agree that this is a variant of the Is-Ought problem, together with the Assuming-That-Which-Is-To-Be-Proven problem. I'm not sure that there really are personal identity problems "implicit" in these types of transfusions or organ transplants (as opposed to, say, a hypothetical brain or memory transplant), or that they necessarily result in life with a "mixed identity." Nor am I persuaded that the immune system speaks up in the name of integrity, selfhood and identity in humans, whereas those same structurally identical systems in other mammals have the more pedestrian function of staving off infection and enhancing survival and probable reproduction. And I don't think that disagreement with Kass' approach necessarily binds one to a strict mind-body dualism. There are plenty of more subtle and nuanced visions of personal identity around...
9.28.2006 2:30pm
Dave Griffith (mail):
As someone with an auto-immune problem, I presumably am passing histological moral judgements against myself. I'll admit it's probably a fair cop in my case, but that's beside the point.
9.28.2006 2:45pm
Hugo:
Remember, Kass was also against IVF.
9.28.2006 2:46pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
Blood transfusions, which likewise trigger the immune system at least if one doesn't take care to do proper blood typing -- though in some ethnically highly homogeneous groups that's not a problem; is the silent body speaking up against racial mixing?

The mention of blood transfusions prompts me to wonder whether Dr. Kass thinks of them in the same terms as organ transplants. It seems to me that his arguments (or poetry, if you prefer) against them apply equally well to blood transfusions.
9.28.2006 2:48pm
Donna B. (mail) (www):
As for childbirth, I suggest that impregnation more closely fits the poetic analogy. Childbirth is merely the rejection part.
9.28.2006 2:54pm
lucia (mail) (www):
I think Leon Kass watched this movie.
9.28.2006 2:59pm
M (mail):
Kass thinks there's a moral argument to be made against licking ice-cream. (Really!) It's based on the argument from yuckiness and he's got an exceptionally fine-tuned sense of yuckiness. It's his only argument, really. He's not worth taking seriously and it's an emberassment to both the University of Chicago and the Bush administration that they have taken him seriously.
9.28.2006 3:33pm
donaldk:
Thank you CJColucci. Exactly my sentiments, better expressed than I have ever managed.
9.28.2006 3:35pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
So that's how bio-ethicists earn their living?

If my liver fails, I think I'll just have to talk my body into accepting a transplant. It's a done deal, get over it.
9.28.2006 3:39pm
dearieme:
"bioethicist Leon Kass": stop teasing.
9.28.2006 3:39pm
DummydaDhimmi:
Why does anyone still pay any attention to Kass?
9.28.2006 3:51pm
Bruce Lagasse (mail):
I wonder if Leon Kass would be willing to make that Immoral-Violation-of-Bodily-Integrity argument, face-to-face, to Sally Satel and Virginia Postrel?
9.28.2006 3:59pm
bob montgomery:
Kass may be making a bad argument, but Eugene's arguments against are also bad.

Taking his numbered examples:

1. This is a straw-man comparison. Surgery and organ transplantation are not comparable in the way you are trying to make them be. The body isn't "rejecting" anything in surgery. You might as well say that Kass' argument is equivalent to a moral argument against cold swimming pools, since when you jump in the cold is unpleasant and your body is "telling" you something about the morality of cold water. But - that isn't Kass' argument.

2. This is just an emotionally-charged variant of 1.

3. I don't see the problem here unless Kass' positions regarding blood transfusions and organ transplants are significantly different.
9.28.2006 4:05pm
bob montgomery:
Re-reading the initial post, you are either leaving out a lot of the context for the quoted paragraph or you are misreading Kass' argument:

A procedure is physically dangerous; therefore it ought to be seen as morally troubling.

That isn't the argument Kass presents in the paragraph you quoted. There is nothing about danger in that paragraph.

A procedure is revolting to many people (as are prostate exams, I suppose, or changing diapers); therefore we ought to assume that it's presumptively improper.

You oversimplify and misstate here. Kass actual argument seems to be that the natural revulsion against this procedure is rooted in biology - i.e., it isn't just a product of some localized belief system - and should therefore not be ignored.

But, since you claim that Kass supports organ transplants, he surely isn't claiming that it cannot be set aside, only that if we would disregard it we should tread carefully. Is that rule so preposterous?
9.28.2006 4:18pm
theophylact:
Kass has raised the "yuck" response to a moral principle. What he does can't be described as "thinking", and he specifically prescribes against it again here. I can't imagine what qualifies him as an expert in this area.
9.28.2006 4:18pm
Shelby (mail):
Has Kass ever offered anything beyond his personal sense of revulsion to justify any of his pronouncements? Apparently my allergies constitute moral judgment of pollen.
9.28.2006 4:27pm
Ghlade:
Is that rule so preposterous?
It is, unless he offers good reason to take simple emotive revulsion as a serious counterweight to rational argument.
9.28.2006 4:35pm
Ben4343434:
My first thought was that he had seen this movie.
9.28.2006 4:36pm
Stephen Carter (mail):
Oh, dear me. I believe there is argument within the poetry, argument that, even if incorrect, is not quite as the discussion so far seems to characterize it. (But I have read no more of the piece than what is quoted here, and cannot find it on line, so I will accept correction from those who know more than I do.)

Certainly Dr. Kass is troubled by organ transplantation, and has set out the reasons for his concerns many times, in many different forums. But I have not understood him in other contexts to be arguing that the reason transplants are troubling is that the body often rejects them, and I doubt that is what he is saying here. (Again, I am willing to be corrected.) He has never said there should not be any transplants, although he is worried about their use as a life-extension technology.

Elsewhere, his concern for the mind-body problem has been a dominant one, and the answer indeed matters. Dr. Kass has for years been fascinated by the questions that have bedeviled philosophers, neurologists, theologians, and, yes, bio-ethicists -- namely, who is in there, and where is that who? For Dr. Kass, the problem that is raised by the rejection by the body of external tissue is not the simple moral one (the "therefore-let-us-not-transplant"), but the larger metaphysical one: If the body rejects it, in what sense is it a part of me? He is not satisfied with an answer that would say tissue becomes a part of me when the doctor says so, or with the one that says it becomes a part of me when my body stops fighting back. He wants to know who is the me here.

The answer to that question matters. I discussed it years ago in a bioethics seminar. If the me is merely in the brain, may not another body part have a right against the brain? If the me is in the larger body, then does the me change when the body changes? If the me is, as many neurologists now argue, constantly fluid, never stable, and so never, at any particular instant, identifiable -- then what of the claims of free will that underlie liberal democracy? Who is that me doing all that free willing?

We need good answers to these questions. If we skip over them, then Masson's famous critique of psychotherapy becomes a critique of democracy. (All right, that's a little bit over the top ...)

Ironically, having faced in recent years a series of health challenges of my own, I am moved all the more to consider the questions Dr. Kass raises, both here and elsewhere. Perhaps the right answer, always, is that what keeps me breathing is best. But I would still like to know who that me is, and why it gets to make decisions for the rest of my body.
9.28.2006 4:37pm
Perseus (mail):
The sneers and hisses directed at Kass are sooooo predictable. Eddie Thomas had an excellent post on the matter:

Kass's views are apparently so far from respectable that all you have to do is report some of them, and your argument is complete. Tell people, for example, that Kass is against in vitro fertilization. Or, if you realize that Kass is no longer opposed, use his change of mind to indicate how stupid he was before and how stupid he will be shown to be on the procedures he continues to be opposed to. Another possibility is to say that Kass is really anti-life because of his concerns about a future where people live much longer than they do now. Finally, you can always reach for the tried and true: a passage from Kass's book The Hungry Soul where he laments the social acceptance of people eating ice cream in public.

There is a wonderful irony here. (I mean "wonderful" literally, not as a synonym for "amusing" or "delicious".) In responding to the supposedly reactionary Kass, his opponents fail to rise above the most primitive of tribal gestures. It is enough to show that Kass is not one of them, and is so far from being one of them that his thought need not be engaged, even though there are many other people who obviously take his thought very seriously. On the other hand, there is Kass, defending taboos and traditions, many of which originate in tribal cultures, by trying to give an account of why these taboos and traditions might have come into being in the first place. To give such arguments, however, is itself a move beyond tradition and tribal culture; a taboo has its force not through reason but through long-established institutes of shaming...
9.28.2006 4:37pm
Daniel San:
Kass' argument includes an invocation of the "yuck" factor.

But it includes an appeal to reason, invoking questions that were frequently discussed in the late Enlightment: What is the self? Is it the brain, or is the the entire body? It is a small step to: If I include parts of someone else, am I entirely me or am I partly someone else?

Obviously there is natural law argumentation included. The natural rejection of the foreign tissue is an indication that the foreign tissue doesn't belong there. It is easy to point out that there should be a distinction between is and ought, but it is worthwhile to explore whether "is" tells us anything about "ought."

Moral argumentation based on reason doesn't get us very far. After that, we are left with revelation, intuition, poetry, common sense, or concensus of some body of opinion. Most of us rely heavily on some subjective sense without questioning its basis. Kass is attempting to explore the basis for our moral intuitions and to find a common language.

I do not find his attempts to be satisfying, but he may be beginning at some of the right places. If we do not begin with "is" and with our intuitions, then where do we begin?
9.28.2006 4:39pm
Dave Griffith (mail):

Is that rule so preposterous?



Revulsion is culturally variable, historically variable, widely variable between individuals even with cultures, susceptible to mild conditioning, trivial to use to argue both sides of most controversies, and most of all flagrantly, willfully anti-logical.

So yeah, as moral rules go, it really is that preposterous. There's a good argument to be made that it goes beyond merely preposterous to actively evil, but I personally will stick with preposterous.
9.28.2006 4:47pm
SocratesAbroad (mail):
Eugene's arguments in Point 1 & 2, as illustrated by specifics, are actually quite valid, Bob.

Regarding the former, consider the example of a stent.
Often of metal, a stent is by definition a foreign body with a distinct possibility of rejection. Thus, anti-rejection drugs are used to prevent the overgrowth of normal tissue and keep the immune system from occluding the vessel.
The same rationale equally applies to any number of medical devices such as pacemakers and orthopaedic screws and pins.

In reference to Point 2 and conception/childbirth:
What about when the "foreign intruder" is a mother's own child? In the event of Rh incompatibility, a baby's RBCs will have Rh D factor while the mother's will not. Minus administration of Rh-immune globulin, the mother's body may produce antibodies that attack the infant's RBCs (or to those of the next child).

In the first instance, the transplanted entity is man-made while in the second (genes from the father) it is clearly biological. Does Kass now wish to suggest that medicine stand idly by and allow "the silent body" to oppose these "foreign intruders" "in the name of integrity, selfhood, and identity"?
9.28.2006 5:12pm
Thief (mail) (www):
I think the analogy holds, but not in the way that Kass expects. Kass, like all conservatives, is playing the role of the immune system in this debate, trying to seperate the good "self" from the bad "other." That is an essential function for any organism. (Ask anyone with AIDS if you don't believe me.) However, sometimes, as in Dave's case, the immune system is overactive and rejects things that are actually beneficial. This is what Kass is doing - he's doing the wrong thing, but his intentions are noble (and yet recall the old saw about where the road paved with good intentions leads.) The key is to keep it active, but not too active. In humans, unlike organ systems, a deeper level of judgement, discernment, and understanding is possible.

As an interesting side note, the human immune system can be "tricked" in a number of ways to their benefit. Blood transfusions are a fine example: as long as the blood type is compatible (i.e. the donor blood does not contain any antibodies not found in the recipients own blood), the transfusion will not be rejected. Same too with pregnancy: the function of the placenta/membrances is to serve as a biological "firewall" between the fetus and the mother, allowing nutrients to pass through while ensuring that maternal and fetal blood never come into direct contact and provoke an immune reaction. Finally, in certain people with blood cancers (leukemia), what the doctors basically do is "re-format" the patient's immune system by using radiation and chemo to destroy the cancerous marrow, and then transplanting in new marrow from a compatible donor. (This also suggests various ways to get around unreasonable opposition to transplants...)

Yeah, I'm a bio nerd who never quite got over it. The only reason I'm going to be a lawyer and not a doctor is that I suck at physics.
9.28.2006 5:17pm
Dustin Ragan (mail) (www):
Perhaps he should consider the case of cancer: essentially, the body's own self is malfunctioning, and we wish that the patient's immune system would attack it.

I think your body's representatives need to pass legislation to stop activist t-cells from letting criminals go free.
9.28.2006 5:18pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
troubles the easygoing presumption of self-in-body, and ceases to do so only if one comes to accept a strict person-body dualism or adopts, against the testimony of one's own lived experience, the proposition that a person is or lives only in his brain-and-or-mind.

Translation: this medical procedure is bad because it reveals a shortcoming in Mr. Kass's philosophy.

Of course we live only in the mind. Mr. Kass isn't worried about the human body. He's worried about our minds. He wants to keep our minds fettered to our bodies, where they can more easily be controlled. The more autonomy people have, the more likely we are to think radical thoughts.
9.28.2006 5:22pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Perseus, Eddie Thomas is right about there being irony, but he's facing in the wrong direction. Kass depends on the yuck factor -- he can dress it up in fancy terminology and use terms like "revulsion," but it still comes back to an instinctual yuck. But that's the reaction many people have to Kass.


It is a small step to: If I include parts of someone else, am I entirely me or am I partly someone else?
Isn't that Theseus's paradox writ small?

But that's not the part that's silly. If Kass had stuck to that argument, maybe there's a place to talk. But when Kass tried to turn a biological argument into a moral one, he just ventured into the frivolous. The immune system is not making moral judgments about integrity, selfhood, or identity. It's just a biochemical reaction.
9.28.2006 5:27pm
Ambrose (mail):
It might also be mentioned that food and water are foreign substances that are taken into the body and accepted after being properly processed. In time we become what is for sale in the market. It is only the order in which these things are arranged that in unique. The morality of how to add things to the body seems to be flexible. The food taken, depending on your viewpoint, depends on how it is prepared, what day it is eaten, what type of animal it comes from, but it must never be smoked.
9.28.2006 5:57pm
Derek Balsam (mail):
hmm. 15 years ago, I received a kidney transplant as a result of an auto-immune disease destroying my native kidneys. Since then, I have received multiple blood transfusions from yet OTHER people.

FWIW, not once in the course of all this have I been "revolted by confusion over my own identity".

According to this ethically challenged ethicist, I evidently am supposed to have multiple personalities now, or something. His arguments are rather hard to follow consistently, at least with a straight face.

Any ethicist who can argue that either death or a shortened lifetime of dialysis are ethically preferable to organ transplantation (as must logically entail from his analysis) hasn't thought things through very well.
9.28.2006 6:05pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
If the me is merely in the brain, may not another body part have a right against the brain?

If someone's spleen has the money for a retainer, I'll take the case. But it's gonna be hourly, not contingency.
9.28.2006 6:49pm
bob montgomery:
Eugene's arguments in Point 1 &2, as illustrated by specifics, are actually quite valid, Bob.

Regarding the former, consider the example of a stent.
Often of metal, a stent is by definition a foreign body with a distinct possibility of rejection. Thus, anti-rejection drugs are used to prevent the overgrowth of normal tissue and keep the immune system from occluding the vessel.
The same rationale equally applies to any number of medical devices such as pacemakers and orthopaedic screws and pins.

Eugene didn't talk about foreign objects, etc., his specific point was about pain and the possibility of death:
All major surgery, which causes excruciating pain and is usually sure to kill the patient without special care being taken to overcome the body's natural patterns of susceptibility to infection, shock, blood loss, and so on (much like the care taken to overcome the body's immune system).

And the childbirth point was the same:
Childbirth, which likewise causes excruciating pain and often kills the patient without special — and in many ways highly unnatural — modern medical treatment.


Those specific examples are straw-man arguments. If Eugene wants to dispute Kass by analogy he should choose his analogies more carefully. More generally, as Eugene himself has noted before, argument by sarcasm, mockery, and dismissal only convinces the choir. Do you folks really come to this blog to yell into an echo chamber?

Lastly, I'll add that Eugene's distinction between argument and poetry is a little shocking and would be shocking to most philosophers and poets of more than, say, 100 years ago.
9.28.2006 6:57pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
"Kass's views are apparently so far from respectable that all you have to do is report some of them, and your argument is complete." (Eddie Thomas, as quoted by Perseus.)

I have a name for this: Refutation by ostension. (One points to the argument, thereby refuting it.) The argument is rarely sound, but I think Kass' is the rare examples.
9.28.2006 7:18pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
bob: Those specific examples are straw-man arguments.

Methinks you know not what a "straw-man argument[]" is.

Professor Volokh was reasoning from analogy and was quite clear that these were not beliefs held by Mr. Kass, the implication being that everyone--including Mr. Kass--would rightfully regard them as being quite stupid.

Thus they cannot have been straw-men argument. A straw man is a weak argument wrongly imputed to the other side. As there was no imputation, there is no straw, and the camel's back remains unbroken.

If you don't like it, you are free to say, "Lo! Surely those analogies are but weakly related to the arguments from Mr. Kass. Surely those analogies do not necessarily follow from what Mr. Kass has said."
9.28.2006 7:29pm
Daryl Herbert (www):
I have a name for this: Refutation by ostension. (One points to the argument, thereby refuting it.) The argument is rarely sound, but I think Kass' is the rare examples.

I think I can elaborate on this and make an intellectual defense for it. Anyone who is at least a little bit thoughtful has considered these questions before, and questions of values in general.

When someone comes up and tells us we must reconsider everything we know, throw out our working values and replace them with some new set, we have every reason to be suspicious. It's a naturally conservative reaction to radicalism.

We are also a practical people. We're not just going to look at individual arguments Kass makes, but at this belief system as a whole, from a "so what?" standpoint. That means looking at the results of his philosophy, namely the conclusions he comes to. We look at these conclusions, see them as antithetical to the values system we currently hold.

The burden is on Mr. Kass to explain why organ transplantation is so terrible and ethically suspect. His only arguments for his philosophy are... more of his philosophy. If he can't make a practical, utilitarian argument for why organ transplantation is bad for the community, then we're just going to look at it and see a bunch of intellectual self-stimulation. He can't convince us that his philosophy is right by slapping us with more of his philosophy.

As far as I'm concerned, if you make a radical argument and can't back it up with practical reasons, there is a prima facie case for dismissing the arguments. Each of the man's views is a punchline. If you want us to throw out all of our old values, at least give us a reason why, predicated on something we already accept! Speak our language!

The very reason Mr. Kass gives--that we should look to biological processes in the body as a source of morality--is quite properly devastated by Professor Volokh. For this, Volokh is accused of anti-intellectual tribalism, mis-representing and unfairly ridiculing Kass's argument, failing to take it seriously, etc. Sheer, petulant victimhood.
9.28.2006 8:01pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

But, since you claim that Kass supports organ transplants, he surely isn't claiming that it cannot be set aside, only that if we would disregard it we should tread carefully. Is that rule so preposterous?


Yes, frankly. I love snails, but find it difficult to think of eating wichity grubs. There are lots of Australians who think grubs are yummy. There are lots of Americans who think snails are revolting. I like pork chops; my mother's rabbi thinks they're revolting. (Yes, she's a convert.) Which of us has the "moral high ground" in the argument?

Klass thinks transplanted organs are yucky. What about dacron vascular replacements? Are they "less yucky"? Why? What about autologous grafts, like using a chunk of leg vein for a cardiac procedure? That's certainly tissue that isn't where it belongs.

The whole argument is, when closely examined, what is technically called "looneytoons."
9.28.2006 8:04pm
M (mail):
There are some philosophical questions relating to personal identity and the mind-body problem that are somewhere in the rought neighborhood of Kass's argument. But, they are generally pretty much science fiction and it's not at all clear that such arguments should have anything to do with a discipline that hopes to be practical such as medical ethics. And, even giving him this, his arguments are such that no philosopher (maybe some 'medical ethics' people who are not philosophers, but I'm pretty confident in saying no philososopher) would think he's on the right track or anywhere near the right place to have serious worries about personal identity or the mind-body problem. His worries and discussions are at best at an amature level. Where is the mind? Maybe that's a hard question, but it's not in the kiddney or even the heart.
9.28.2006 8:06pm
Dick Eagleson:
Perseus,

Your Eddie Thomas quote indeed advances the debate but not, I think, in the direction you intend. Kass has always seemed to me a man profoundly unsettled by change simply because it is change. His "wisdom of revulsion" is simply the discomfort of the ultra-orthodox cultural conservative for innovation, per se.

To the extent Kass deigns to explain further he wanders into silly questions like whether organ transplants compromise self-identity. If one shares the attitudinal baggage of, say, a New Guinean cannibal tribesman who eats the hearts of his vanquished enemies to avail himself of his slain foes' courage, then - yeah - such a question might occur to you.

In a period when rapid change is occurring - mostly for the better in the opinions of most - then rigid cultural conservatism asymptotically approaches simple atavism. It wasn't that many years ago that it was considered perfectly respectable that the "wisdom of revulsion" prohibited interracial marriage.

The tribal barbarian has his moral code and we have ours. I, for one, think ours is better. The tribal barbarian, naturally, begs to differ. This is, at bottom, the basis of our ongoing "clash of civilizations" with "radical" (i.e., rigidly atavistic) Islam.

It is hard to imagine Kass strapping on a Semtex waistcoat and undertaking a "martyrdom operation" against, say, the surgical theatres at Johns Hopkins - or against some marauding Good Humor truck for that matter. But his mindset is situated squarely along - just not quite so far along - the same axis of thought as those who already do such things for comparable reasons of their own.
9.28.2006 8:18pm
srp (mail):
Long before Kass was famous in political circles (1998), Virginia Postrel confronted (and I think destroyed) his arguments in The Future and its Enemies. There were other casualties along the way, such as Bill McKibben, but Kass is such a perfect stasist that he kind of steals the show.
9.28.2006 9:29pm
Daniel San:

If he can't make a practical, utilitarian argument for why organ transplantation is bad for the community, then we're just going to look at it and see a bunch of intellectual self-stimulation.


The core of Kass' position is that there should be some argument other than utilitarian. Surely there are some moral limits to the manipulation of human biology. If there are, they will not be found in utilitarian arguments. They will be found in intuition, poetry, revelation, or some other squishy factors.

To insist on utilitarian arguments is to end the discussion before it begins. Every technique that seems useful and does not have come with harms that seem to outweigh the utility is to be pursued.

EV seems to attribute Kass'argument to a subjective, ideosyncratic revulsion to a particular procedure. Instead, Kass refers to what he refers to as a "primordial revulsion." He elevates this to a moral principle that identity confusion is bad, individual integrity is good. If this intuition is universal, then he can properly proceed to ask whether organ transplantation raises identity confusion and threatens individual integrity. Of course, if the principle is ideosyncratic, then the rest of the argument is pointless.

If there is not principle other than the utilitarian, Kass and every other moral philosopher is wasting our precious time.
9.28.2006 11:08pm
ReaderY:
These are difficult issues, and sometimes moral perceptions are felt or otherwise unclearly perceived before they can be clearly expressed. I certainly think there are moral and social problems, particularly when we get outside the area of life-saving towards e.g. cosmetic transplantation, so things are a matter of degree. I might disagree with these views, but I wouldn't be so quick to pooh-pooh.
9.29.2006 12:18am
J. Brian Cotner, M.D.:
Dick Eagleson:

"In a period when rapid change is occurring - mostly for the better in the opinions of most - then rigid cultural conservatism asymptotically approaches simple atavism. "

So bioethics should be "the majority will of that nation that could lick all others"? ;-)

"Dr. Kass: look upon our works and despair." Have a little humility, Ozymandias.

Dr. Kass is obviously a thinking man trying to have a grown-up conversation with you. He is not to be equated with a jungle savage or a terrorist as you imply. He is obviously a man who is willing to go out on a limb to make a point, or make a person think twice about something that is rapidly becoming commonplace. He does not deserve mockery.

It is perhaps too obvious to mention that we are doing things these days in every aspect of society that would have been considered immoral, unthinkable, impossible a hundred years ago. These are the rapid changes that you refer to (that are mostly for the better, in the opinions of most).

Which of them are changes of natural societal growth? Which are the early stages of fatal societal disease? Who can say? The majority? Hah.

As others have touched on in this thread, disease occurs in our bodies when our natural defenses reject too much, AND when they ACCEPT too much.

That is a useful observation, a moral testimony of our immune system, if you will.

BC,MD
9.29.2006 12:24am
lucia (mail) (www):

If this intuition is universal, then he can properly proceed to ask whether organ transplantation raises identity confusion
a

It doesn't.

and threatens individual integrity.

It doesn't.

The difficulty is that Kass lengthy discussions claiming organ transplants create identity confusion and/ or threaten individual integrity sound like silly ramblings from sci-fi movies one might enjoy while drinking beer. The same can be said for his discussions about eating ice cream in public.

This is why people's counter arguments often consist of simply quoting what he says.
9.29.2006 1:04am
M (mail):
Daniel Sen,

The trouble w/ Kass's view isn't that he rejects utilitarianism- very many, perhaps most, moral philosophers today do. It's that what he offers in its place isn't at all an attractive view and has little to offer. He appeals to supposedly "primordial revulsion" but offers very little reason to think that he can distinguish this (if it exits at all) from his own highly idiosyncratic views. (See the stuff on licking icecream again.) He's not a philosophers (he's a medical doctor by training but I don't know if he even does actual medical work any more). At best he's a moralist in the pejoritive sense of the term. He's not taken seriously by moral philosophers, neither by the utilitarians nor the non-utilitarians, and for good reason- he has a deeply implausible view and can't give any arguments for it.
9.29.2006 1:27am
Mart:
It's interesting to me that the original post A) omits the reference or link to the full story, and B) focuses in very tightly on objecting to a one-line metaphor.

It doesn't seem entirely fair.

It seems to me that that metaphor may not be a pillar of Kass' argument — i.e. that it may be intended as 'color.'
9.29.2006 1:30am
Jay Myers:
Volokh:

This is poetry, it seems to me, not argument. The images and concepts are vivid enough, but the logical connections seem to be to missing.

Yes, he seems to be a Continental philosopher rather than Analytic. That doesn't make his work any less relevant, although it may seem strange to someone trained as a lawyer.

I can't blame you for not having an appreciation of Kass's work. I can't think of anything in philosophy to which I have greater aversion than reading Continental philosophy of mind. Kass does have an argument though. It is that "repugnance is the emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond reason's power fully to articulate it." Perhaps he doesn't support it with the kind of evidence a lawyer would like, but that's why he's not in the Analytic camp.

M:

He's not a philosophers (he's a medical doctor by training but I don't know if he even does actual medical work any more).

He is trained as a Ph.D. biologist as well as a M.D. but that seems besides the point. Philosophy is an activity and a philosopher is one who engages in that activity. Kass has been publishing his work on bioethics in reputable publications since 1968. I can't imagine considering someone with those credentials "not a philosopher".

Is his theory wrong? Sure. All philosophical theories are wrong. Including the ones forming the basis for counter-arguments to him. Epistimology cannot even prove that knowledge, the very thing it purports to study, exists. The point of philosophy lies in the questions which are asked and not in answers.
9.29.2006 2:29am
Lev:

Even the silent body speaks up to oppose transplantation, in the name of integrity, selfhood, and identity: its immune system, which protects the body against all foreign intruders, naturally rejects tissues and organs transplanted from another body.


Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a galaxy an English class far far away, the topic of "The Pathetic Fallacy" came up. The ascribing of human characteristics to inanimate objects. "The hurricane goes where it wishes to go." "The tornado took aim at the town." Of course, hurricanes don't have wishes, humans do. And tornados don't take aim, humans do.

I submit,


Even the silent body speaks up


is an example of The Pathetic Fallacy. While humans have minds...for the most part...the body does not. It does not will, it does not speak - except as the mind causes air to vibrate the voicebox. The body operates as the unthinking, unreasoning, randomly chosen, naturally selected, product of evolution that it is.

What it does on its own as opposed to what the mind wills it to do, is not moral, or immoral, or, I suppose, amoral. The cells chemically/biologically recognize/don't recognize, attack/don't attack, heal/don't heal, without volition, without thought, without speach, without consciousness. The cells react to what is done to them, surgery, transplant, transfusion, in the same manner.

I guess he tossed it in because it sounded pretty, but WTF does it have to do with the morality of selling or not selling one's own organs.
9.29.2006 3:16am
blspro:
"repugnance is the emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond reason's power fully to articulate it"

In other words, the Kass 'argument' is an example of blatant emotionalism. Of course the problem is that emotions are not tools of cognition. They do not identify reality, but only reveal what you think about reality. Whether you have come to your thoughts rationally or completely arbitrarily - ie through validated reasoning or random accumulation of contradictory ideas - is not revealed by the fact that you feel something. Acceptance of one's emotions as 'wisdom' without rational validation is the same as acceptance of any arbitrary idea as 'wisdom' without such validation.

Put simply, what we have here is not the identification of reality. What we have here is whim-worship in PLACE of the identification of reality.

All philosophical theories are wrong.

By his own philosophic premise here, JM causes any and all of his assertions to be stillborn. He causes them to be reduced to the level of incomprehensible gibberish. They are scribbles pretending at language and then further pretending at argument - based on numerous felony counts of the 'Stolen Concept' fallacy.
9.29.2006 12:46pm
Daniel San:
Lev:

While humans have minds...for the most part...the body does not.

But the reactions of the body can provide relevant information. "Even the silent body speaks up" is more poetic than empirical, but the point is valid: The immune system reacts to foreign elements. The immune reaction is evidence that a particular organ is a foreign element. This evidence assists in making the moral judgment with respect to bodily integrity, but the body's "judgment", even if accurate, is empirical and not moral.

blspro:

Acceptance of one's emotions as 'wisdom' without rational validation is the same as acceptance of any arbitrary idea as 'wisdom' without such validation.

Certainly "one's emotions" do provide an arbitrary notion of wisdom. But what is these emotions are persistent and universal? I don't know of any empirical evidence that there are such universal emotions or intuitions, but it is common among moral philosophers to assume that some are. "We hold these truths to be self-evident" claims that some judgments, although they can be defended rationally, are prior to rational validation.

How does one rationally validate the notion that identity confusion is bad (or not bad) or that bodily integrity is good (or not good), or that organ transplantation is good, bad, or suspect, or for that matter whether torture is good or bad? One can rationally determine whether a "revulsion ton identity confusion" is universal, common within a culture or sub-culture, or ideosyncratic to Kass (although I don't know that Kass has attempted this). We can rationally examine various evidence whether a transplanted organ becomes part of the body into which it is transplanted. The moral authority of a "primordial revulsion" evades rational validation.
9.29.2006 1:43pm
Victor Freeh (mail):
Kass's views are apparently so far from respectable that all you have to do is report some of them, and your argument is complete.

The guy thinks it's wrong for children to eat ice cream cones. Yes, the argument is complete.

Q the Enchanter: I have a name for this: Refutation by ostension. (One points to the argument, thereby refuting it.)

I don't think it requires a new name: "reductio ad absurdum" fits it quite well. It's just that in Kass' case, the reductio is trivial.
9.29.2006 2:11pm
blspro:

But what is these emotions are persistent and universal?

I assume you mean 'what IF these...' And with this, you are providing nothing but an arbitrary assertion, as I said. This is explicitly made clear when you state "I don't know of any empirical evidence that there are such universal emotions or intuitions." That being the case - ie if you lack evidence to assert something as existing in reality - then you have no basis to pursue the train of thought and must dismiss it out of hand.

That is what must be done with the arbitrary.

That "it is common among moral philosophers to assume that some are" - ie it is supposedly common for supposed moral philosophers to start their supposedly logical arguments with an arbitrary assertion - simply shows that one can be irrational and still be considered a philosopher these days. But that simply speaks to the standards and rationality of those recognizing them as philosophers. It does not make them so. Nor does it make their irrationality somehow rational. An appeal to such 'authority - especially to ones that are so blatantly irrational - is not a logical argument. Put simply - saying 'Well, they do it' does not make their actions valid, and leaves your premises just as arbitrary as before you referred to 'them'.

Put simply, just because others make arbitrary assertions does not make such assertions valid. Nor do the number or the profession of people making the same arbitrary assertion somehow convey validity upon the assertion.

Those are all errors of logic.


"We hold these truths to be self-evident" claims that some judgments, although they can be defended rationally, are prior to rational validation.

Not true. Axioms in specific fields rest upon the fundamental premises of philosophy. And those fundamental premises - those axioms - are ostensible. As such, they are thus validated rationally.

In other words, contrary to your implication, man is not stuck starting with the arbitrary (that which is prior to rational validation) and then forced to proceed simply with an internally-consistent logic (defend rationally) based upon his arbitrary premises. Again, that would simply be whim-worship.
9.29.2006 3:04pm
J. Brian Cotner, M.D:
I am always amazed at the frothing and gnashing of teeth that accompanies any posting about Leon Kass.

If memory serves me, Dr. Kass only ever became a target of scorn after President Bush took a stand on stem cell research, and the blame was laid at Kass' feet. The problem seems to be that, because of his position of influence, Kass is viewed as a hindrance, if not an outright threat to "Progress".

There seems to be nothing altruistic about this attitude. Kass' opponents want their future NOW, and can't understand why it's taking so long. To be sure, they want the promised miracles of unmanaged technology for THEMSELVES and THEIR present loved ones. It is only when you start thinking about the distant future of humanity that you begin to count the cost of technology. The future of humanity will not be decided by how great our technology is, but by what kind of creatures we have become.

I wonder how many people who mock and hate Dr. Kass have thought as much about this topic as he has. How many of the opposing philosophic viewpoints here are borne because of a fleeting opinion, supported by a sense of personal infallibility? Probably many attitudes here are derived from hatred of anything that smacks of "religious" thinking. Some may merely be acting out the attitudes espoused by a favorite Star Trek character. It would be interesting to know.

One of the posters here accused Dr. Kass of "whim-worship," but that is more likely the poster's pathology. I would challenge "blspro" to publish volume after volume of the logical (and, yes, emotional) searching that has led him to his personal beliefs, and let us see if he writes anything more coherent than Dr. Kass has written, or anything less worthy of mockery.
9.29.2006 3:22pm
Robert A. Book (mail) (www):
Blood transfusions do NOT "trigger the immune system" if improperly typed. Mixing the incorrect blood types causes and often fatal reaction between the different types of blood, but that reaction does not involve the immune system at all. The blood is not "rejected" in the sense that the word "rejected" is used in connection with organ transplants.

Also, Ditto to Stephen Carter's comment.
9.29.2006 3:27pm
Dave Griffith (mail):
There seems to be nothing altruistic about this attitude. Kass' opponents want their future NOW, and can't understand why it's taking so long.

We're looking to prevent infirmity, suffering and pointless death for billions. We're looking to dramatically increase the abilities of everyone to chart their own lives and control their own destinies. We're looking to create a time where we can act as a mature species, not one driven by fear and want.


And you've got the unmitigated gall to suggest that our motives are not altruistic.
9.29.2006 3:45pm
J. Brian Cotner, M.D:
Mr. Griffith

There was the Star Trek defense I was looking for. There is no way of knowing if the technology you seek will create the future you're dreaming of.

Followers of Dr. Kass could make every one of the claims for their motives that you have made, but would understand them in a different way.

BC,MD
Gall: 87% mitigated (I checked)
9.29.2006 4:04pm
Dave Griffith (mail):
There is no way of knowing if the technology you seek will create the future you're dreaming of.

Except, of course, that an enormous amount of progress has been made down that path over the last five hundred years, often using technologies that Kass would undoubtedly find revolting. Life-spans have doubled, average wealth increased something by some immeasurable factor, and an average lower-middle-class person has capacities that an average person of a hundred years ago could barely conceive. This isn't science fiction we're talking about, unless you consider the world around you to be science fiction. The tremendous strides that the human race has already made in conquering poverty, disease, and infirmity weren't brought about by people who dithered about whether the future would be icky, or what their bone marrow thought about it. They were made by people who dreamed, planned, and acted. Betting on this to change strikes me as deeply foolish.

To put it more bluntly: We're here. We're transcending. Get used to it.
9.29.2006 4:34pm
Daniel San:
bispro:

That "it is common among moral philosophers to assume that some are" - ie it is supposedly common for supposed moral philosophers to start their supposedly logical arguments with an arbitrary assertion - simply shows that one can be irrational and still be considered a philosopher these days.

I am thinking more of moral philosphers of the Enlightenment, who can't very well be called "these days". Particularly Thomas Reid and a good many others who have followed in his train, including at least some of the Framers of our Constitution, used terms such as "self evidence" and "common sense" to describe perceptions that are morally knowable in the same way that we know what our five senses tell us. They did not see these as arbitrary because they believed the perceptions are common to all. Others, such as David Hume, argued that the evidence of our senses may also been seen as arbitrary.

The evidence that certain truths are "common" could perhaps be studied using sociological tools. More commonly it is addressing by reviewing literature, mythology, stories, and attitudes across history and across cultures. Admittedly, such reviews sometimes become exercises in cherry-picking.
But there may be some inductive truth, since it should not be too difficult to disprove the proposition by showing a group that seems entirely comfortable with a notion such as "identity confusion." If that group is of significant size, that would be evidence that notions of personal integrity are not deeply rooted in the primordal human psyche.

The assertion that there is a primordial revulsion to identity confusion may not be as well-grounded empirically as we would prefer, but it is not arbitrary.

Axioms in specific fields rest upon the fundamental premises of philosophy. And those fundamental premises - those axioms - are ostensible.

In saying that certain truths are ostensible, are you not agreeing that certain moral perceptions are general? Can you point to rational validation for the proposition that "all men are created equal" any stroger than that for the proposition that "individual integrity should be preserved."

They nature of an axiom is that it is widely accepted, that it is useful for description and explanation, and that it has not been disproved. At least wihin our society, that is the case with the Enlightenment's Self-evident Truths. It would have though it was also the case with the proposition that "personal integrity should be preserved." Of course, that leaves a great deal of room for disagreement about definitions of "all men", "created", "equal", "individual integrity", and "preserved."

From the look of these comments, Kass' starting point, that identity confusion is bad, is not an accepted axiom. I wonder, however, if it is more distate with his conclusions that lead to a refusal to engage his axioms.
9.29.2006 4:38pm
blspro:

"To be sure, they want the promised miracles of unmanaged technology for THEMSELVES and THEIR present loved ones."

Funny - I didn't know I or anyone else here was a slave and needed to have technology (or anything else) "managed" (dictated) for each of us. Guess that makes us selfish. Certainly by that standard, I am.

In other words, keep your dictatorial chains of 'altruism' to yourself, thank you very much. The rest of humanity doesn't need you to do its thinking, judging, or acting for any of us.


One of the posters here accused Dr. Kass of "whim-worship," but that is more likely the poster's pathology.

Interesting - our supposed MD doesn't bother trying to address the argument presented. He merely launches into an attack upon those who disagree with his apparent position. Thus it appears philosophers are not the only professionals who believe fallacies are perfectly acceptable and logic is something they need not use.
9.29.2006 4:46pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Brian Cotner

David Griffith did not claim to know or predict the outcome of any particular technology. You impugned his motives and he simply described the motives behind efforts.

The ability to clearly predict the outcome of an action often tells us little about the motives. Motive is related to the outcome on seeks and believes will occur through their actions. If they later turn out to have been mistaken, this does not retroactively change their motives.

The outcome David said he seeks sound sound pretty admirable to me; I believe many would consider efforts expended in an attempt to reduce infirmity, minimize suffering and pointless death admirable. Sounds altruistic to me.

Now, for the other comment: The Star Trek defense? Is that an argument? If we called your position the "Soilent Green" or "Andromeda Strain" position, and impugned your motives as selfish and non-altruistic, would you consider that a reasoned argument?
9.29.2006 4:49pm
J. Brian Cotner, M.D:
Mr. Griffith derides Dr. Kass for his seeming irrationality while he himself demonstrates a merely religious faith in human transcendancy.

And so here it ends, not with one truth, but with two competing philosophies.

Who is right? The only thing we know for sure is that one will fling poo on the other.

JBCMD
9.29.2006 4:49pm
blspro:

I am thinking more of moral philosphers of the Enlightenment, who can't very well be called "these days"

Since no one can read your mind, you need to be more specific in the future when you make your statements then. Not that the 'these days' had ANY bearing on the argument that was presented. Non-sequitor.


"self evidence" and "common sense" to describe perceptions that are morally knowable in the same way that we know what our five senses tell us

Sense perception and mental judgments are two VERY separate things. You - and others - would do well to make the distinction between them. The senses are what provide the evidence for men to make judgments. They are not subject to error. Judgment is - and as such, must be validated. To not validate one's thoughts - one's judgments - is to engage in the arbitrary. It is to engage in fantasy at the price of ignoring reality.


The evidence that certain truths are "common" could perhaps be studied using sociological tools.

Already addressed this point, and it was obviously ignored. Appeal to authority (the masses) does not establish the validity of a thing. Thus appealing to sociology to determine truths about reality is a fallacious approach to knowledge. Believing doesnt make a thing so, no matter how many people do the wishing. In other words, it doesn't matter if 10 people or 10 billion people believe something is right or is wrong. Belief is not evidence of reality. Man is fallible. And so thought must be validated.

Put simply, you don't get to engage in whim worship, no matter how many people agree with your whims. Sorry.


The assertion that there is a primordial revulsion to identity confusion may not be as well-grounded empirically as we would prefer, but it is not arbitrary.

You are the one who claimed there was no evidence for the position. No evidence = arbitrary. Sorry.


In saying that certain truths are ostensible, are you not agreeing that certain moral perceptions are general?

No. Certain METAPHYSICAL percepts are UNIVERSAL and ostensible. Anything beyond that may be axiomatic for a particular derivative field of study and are not ostensible. They are first principles based upon and dependent upon those philosophic axioms.


They nature of an axiom is that it is widely accepted

No. Again you follow the error that collective belief equals reality. It does not. That is just whim worship of a large number of people rather than one individual - ie subjectivism of the collective sort as opposed to the individual sort. But it is still subjectivism. It is still whim worship. An axiom is an axiom whether one person or one billion people agree with it (or disagree with it). ANY fact is still a fact, regardless of the number or type of person who believe in it.
9.29.2006 5:14pm
blspro:

Mr. Griffith derides Dr. Kass for his seeming irrationality while he himself demonstrates a merely religious faith in human transcendancy.

DG cites the strides men have made and continue to make (so long as he is left free), and calls this ongoing human achievement 'faith' - ie belief without evidence. Apparently our supposed MD either does not grasp the concept 'faith' or does not believe the history of man which was cited.


The only thing we know for sure is that one will fling poo on the other.

Yes - and we have seen which side is doing that here. So perhaps that means our supposed MD is a proctologist?
9.29.2006 6:28pm
lucia (mail) (www):
J Brian,
Mr. Griffith derides Dr. Kass for his seeming irrationality while he himself demonstrates a merely religious faith in human transcendancy.


Oh?

When I read David's post, I notice he gives empirical evidence to support his premise that advancing technology has improved our lot. He basis is best guess for the future on what has happened in the past.

Leon Kass tells us eating ice cream in public is somehow immoral because licking ice cream is a cat like activity! (To which most would respond: So what?)

I think everyone can see he is not presenting merely religious arguments for his position!

If you think Kass is so wonderful, why not counter his critics by telling them why you agree with Kass? If Kass's positions have a scrap of persuasivness, that's got to be better than doing what you are doing which is:

a) impugning Kass's detractors motives as selfish -- providing no evidence
b) labeling David's an other detractors optimistic position vis-a-vis technology a "Star Trek Defense" and
c) and calling the empirical evidence David (and many others) present to support the optimistic position as "merely religious"!

There are plenty of people who notice these rhetorical ploys and call them what they are. Piffle.
9.29.2006 6:55pm
blspro:
Well spoken lucia
9.29.2006 7:00pm
J. Brian Cotner, M.D:
Well, I hope Dr. Kass has time to get out of the Amazon before the rhetorical piranhas finish stripping my bones clean!

I guess I started an argument I can't finish. We're arguing about the argument now, which seems fruitless, and I have rectal exams to perform. It's been fun.

Have a good weekend,
BCMD
9.29.2006 7:34pm
blspro:

We're arguing about the argument now,

No, "we" are not. You have attempted, and now continue to attempt, to focus anywhere but on the logical arguments presented against Kass. Unfortunately for you, we are not easily distracted - nor are we limited to dealing just with you. We are still free and capable of having a discussion should anyone else actually present one. As it stands though, the argument that Kass has engaged in emotionalism and whim worship remains untouched. :)


I guess I started an argument I can't finish

Throwing the intellectual equivalent of rotten eggs at others is neither starting nor continuing an argument. It is merely a poor attempt to distract from the argument at hand. Too bad you failed at even that.

Thanks for stopping by though.
9.29.2006 8:24pm
tioedong (mail) (www):
Kass is indeed a poet, but medicine, which deals with mind, body, and spirit, is badly in need of such poetry.
Too often we see organ transplant as technical, yet there have been at least two movies about heart transplants and the "haunting" of the recipient...so such "poetry" is not limited to Kass.
Too often, medicine ignores the person and his/her wishes, worries, and inner thoughts. And sometimes the best "treatment" technically is not the best for the whole person.
I'll use this example:
When I worked with the Chippewa, the "logical" treatment for non healing diabetic foot wounds was amputation...then one of our nurses did a study, showing that what devestated the people was not the need for a wheel chair or even the illness, but the idea they were no longer whole. So we initiated an aggressive "wound healing" clinic...and cut our amputation rate...people still were in wheelchairs,and had other problems of end stage circulation problems (i.e. kidney and heart failure) but they were much happier.

One of the failure of medicine to remember it is an art that includes poetry and drama is what is driving people to herbalists and quacks.
Kass' work with using the classics to teach medical ethics/sociology of illness is a brilliant way to try to reconstitute doctors as well rounded professionals rather than technical health care providers.
9.29.2006 8:47pm
lucia (mail) (www):
blspro,

Well said.

You posted more or less what I would have said to J. Brian except I thought the intellectual equivalent to "throwing rotten eggs" was calling us "rhetorical pirahnas." Still, as evocative as that metaphor is, I think it was a let down after his introduction of "argument by throwing poo".
9.29.2006 8:57pm
blspro:
tioedong - the issue is not whether or not individuals will be happier with one proceedure over another but whether they will be free to choose particular proceedures or whether 'ethicists' will have made judgments for them based on their own personal emotional states and projections - ie supposition of 'revulsion'etc.

Additionally, your statements do not address the issues being brought up by Kass. You have made different arguments from entirely different principles than those put forth in the quotes of Kass provided above. It is the individual who must decide the best course of action for his own body. And it is science which must be free to offer him whatever it can along those lines. However, Kass is making bizarre emotionally-based claims about all humans in general - and using these completely arbitrary assertions as the basis for his views against 'intrusions' into the 'self' by 'foreign' entities.

If you would like to try to support that argument, then please do. Otherwise you have simply erected a straw man.
9.29.2006 9:41pm
lucia (mail) (www):
tioedong,
I agree there is need for poetry in life and medicine That said, two poems can say entirely different thing.

Your poem seems to say : Patients needs and emotions are paramount. Consider the patients preferences when deciding between possible treatments A-Z.

Kass's poem seems say: Proceedures L-Z are prohibited. Regardless of patient preferences, choices are limited to A-K.

I'd also like to point out that you, tioedong, also advanced some utilitarian arguments for his position: Giving the patients some autonomy and choice makes them happy and makes them happy.

So if the patient believes he wants heart transplant, the technology exists, the doctor believes the patient is a good candidate, and evidence suggests real, non-movie patients almost never feel haunted by the transplated heart, should we follow the dictates of Kass's poem and prohibit the transplant?

Or follow the dicates of your poem and give the patient what they want and believe will make them happy?

Which approach deals with the whole patient as he really is, and not as some bio-ethicist cum-philosopher would like him to be?
9.29.2006 10:25pm
Jay Myers:
blspro:

That "it is common among moral philosophers to assume that some are" - ie it is supposedly common for supposed moral philosophers to start their supposedly logical arguments with an arbitrary assertion - simply shows that one can be irrational and still be considered a philosopher these days. But that simply speaks to the standards and rationality of those recognizing them as philosophers. It does not make them so. Nor does it make their irrationality somehow rational.

It is impossible to construct a complete system of logic or math without using at least one unprovable axiom such as the fifth postulate of Euclidean geometetry. Kurt Gödel proved this with his incompleteness theorem in 1931. You can criticize philosophers for starting with assumptions and even make snide comments about those who acknowledge them as philosophers but the fact is that in your ignorance you are demanding an impossible standard. And it is a double standard since you fail to criticize mathematicians for doing the exact same thing.

blspro, if you wish to disprove Gödel then feel free to devote your life to the task but please refrain from arrogant statements regarding the qualifications of people in a field of which you are lacking basic knowledge.
9.30.2006 4:40pm
blspro:

It is impossible to construct a complete system of logic or math without using at least one unprovable axiom such as the fifth postulate of Euclidean geometetry

This is a false statement. It is quite possible to construct a philosophic system without resorting to the arbitrary or to faith (ie to the subjective or the mystical). In fact it has been done. I am sorry you are ignorant of that fact.

As to 'disproving' godel, I have no need (nor desire) to devote my life (or even five minutes) to the task of destroying the false philosophic principles upon which his subsequent mathematical principles rest. It is quite easy to do - and has been done. Check out the philosophy of Objectivism some time. You will find that not only do you not need the arbitrary, but that the arbitrary is what keeps you from knowing or grasping reality.

The arbitrary is mere fantasy. Come into reality with the rest of us. But please - leave your haughty indignation and unsupported assertions at the door. Thanks!
9.30.2006 8:50pm
philtb:
Jay Meyers--

Yours is a common abuse of Godel's Incompleteness Theorem. Luckily for us, his theorem is a statement about abstract mathematical system, a model of some part of reality, not the whole of reality in which we live, breathe, and trash retarded ethicists.

But if you must think of reality as the deductive conseqence of a gigantic list of axioms, then every single piece of sense data you receive, from the day you're born until your last, is another new "axiom" from which to reason-- and they should be the starting point, not some philosopher's arbitrary assertions about how he thinks the world ought to be.
9.30.2006 11:30pm
blspro:
Forgot to include one point to JM:

you fail to criticize mathematicians for doing the exact same thing.

I guess I have to emphasize what I thought I already made abundantly clear - I criticize anyone, be they a supposed philosopher, a so-called mathematician, or even an armchair logician, for engaging in the arbitrary (at any point in their reasoning). A person who not only believes, but actually acts upon, the premise that fantasy is reality deserves either a very harshly worded rebuke or a very softly padded cell.
10.1.2006 5:28am