[Cz-biology] [Cz-philosophy] [Czinternal-constable] [Cz-health-sci] Abortion article
john.hymers at dcom.kuleuven.be
Mon Oct 29 03:44:01 CDT 2007
Dear Thom (et al),
Thanks for your very thorough critique of a piece clearly not belonging
in the encyclopaedia.
This piece can only be considered a start in the sense that the
encyclopaedia ought to have an article on abortion. I do not see how
this article, however, could be reworked without being rewritten.
As Thom clearly says, but which I think should be the key point, this
article is not about abortion at all. Rather, it is how to think about
abortion. As far as I know, we aren't working on a handbook or manual.
And even as a piece on the philosophy of abortion, it is woefully thin,
heavy on well-known cases and typical illustrations, with the
theoretical musings on the subject (to be found in the 'conclusion')
limited to bullpen-type talking points. Yet, philosophy is not just
about seeing "both sides of an issue" (pro vs. contra), nor about
playing off one school of thought against another (deontological vs.
virtue ethics) - it is about understanding the grounds of unexamined
assumptions (as nicely formulated elsewhere on this list by John
Mackenzie). This piece is clearly far from that. Instead of working out
these assumptions, it simply lists them, and then problematizes them
through punctuation alone. Consider this: "The trouble is that any
attempt to do so appears to suggest that disabled or handicapped people,
or people in a coma, or people with Alzheimer’s are somehow not people.
For example, we might look at: (i) Independence. But when is a child
independent? 10? 16? When they leave home? And what about a person on a
life support machine? (ii) Rationality? But when does rational thought
begin? 4? 7? 17? And what of a person who is mentally handicapped or who
develops Alzheimer’s? (iii) Self-consciousness?" (I stress that I could
have chosen many other passages). That is a great example of writing
that should never appear in a serious philosophical text, since each of
those question marks is, in essence, cowardly when allowed to stand in
the place of argument. But even less should such writing appear in an
encyclopaedia, whose point, of course, is to inform. And need I point
out the undergraduate error in grammatical number between "a child" and
Finally, the section label "conclusion" is in no sense a conclusion. It
could just as well be called "further considerations," or, since these
seem to be class notes, "hey you in the back: sit down, we still have
five minutes left."
Sorry if I have simply restated the position of Thom and Diana.
thom simmons wrote:
> I have not contributed to the article and will not do so. I speak now
> not as Constable but as an author in biology and health science and
> also lend my voice as an editor (applied linguistics)--I have analysed
> a lot of these things and its over riding inappropriate
> characteristics standout like a red flag.
> *My point here: **The writer’s approach to the CZ readers and this
> forum is inappropriate and the writer is treating this forum as a
> legitimate place to advance a personal point of view while demeaning
> the opposing view of a very specific group.
> This has been referred to as course notes. I would say that yes, I
> have heard people stand up and take this voice with classes I took at
> the undergraduate level, even in high school. Beyond that level the
> speaker would get much of it back in his or her teeth. It represents
> the sort of thing I would have expected to hear in the 60s and the
> speaker was working the students over--"Vietnam is good" or "Vietnam
> is bad." "We should never trust out leaders," or "We should always
> trust out leaders."
> *The voice is very familiar. It is meant to persuade, even manipulate,
> rather than inform. The voice is not appropriate for an encyclopaedia.
> This is overwhelmingly not encyclopaedia ready (the fit ain't no good)
> *PROBLEM: No sources other than the writer. This is an original work
> that means to convey the authority of the writer
> *PROBLEM: The content and the language register have serious issues.
> *Consider these examples from the text:
> - “1. Wastage: We should not forget the high degree of natural wastage
> of eggs and sperm:”
> #Who is we?
> The writer assumes a group oriented stance in what is an obvious move
> to garner group identity and therefore authority within the group of
> readers. In other words, the assumption here is "We are together in
> this, we agree on these things and I speak as a leader of this group."
> This is not an encyclopaedia voice I would expect in the 21st century.
> More like the 19th century writers telling us that Israel is a defunct
> nation without a home and will be forever more and of course we all
> know this. The voice is wrong for this venue and it is in fact a voice
> that is prohibited by the guidelines as we will see.
> The voice is also meant to provoke and to extend disdain--you are one
> of us or you are not. The ‘we’ voice is a constant in this article.
> And what is the purpose of the voice here
> - " We should therefore be cautious of moral attitudes which give too
> much value to sperm or eggs."
> #Why? Whose position is this? Again the writer assumes authority in
> what is supposed to be an encyclopaedia article written in the 21st
> We are now placed in a specific camp. These in this camp accept the
> authority of the speaker. Anyone else is not a 'we' and of course does
> not have an appropriate view. It is an implied ad hominem. We are
> being told what to believe by the writer. Or you are in the wrong group.
> The writer makes more such moves
> -"It used to be believed that the soul entered the foetus at some stage,"
> #Used to be?
> - "2. What the Church has Taught"
> #I do not see the imprimatur of the Pope or the Ecumenical Patriarch
> any where in this document and since it is without sources, certainly
> not on any supporting document.
> *PROBLEM: This is overwhelmingly an argument for a position rather
> than an encyclopaedia article
> Under the subheading
> “2. What the Church has Taught”
> - “intentional abortion is not mentioned in the Old or New Testaments”
> #(i.e. Its absence removes any support claimed from Jewish or
> Christian scripture.)
> - “[Augustine] made little distinction between abortion and
> contraception. The biological process was not understood, and sperm
> were seen as “little men”, the woman’s role being like that of the
> fertile soil in the germination of any other seed.”
> #(i.e. Augustine was ultimately an ignorant person as were others of
> his age. That ignorance renders that position unreasonable. This
> hardly subtle attempt means to discredit the authority of a
> historically significant figure in the Roman Catholic Church)
> - “[Aquinas] recognised that there might be values equal to or greater
> than the life of the foetus, such as the life or health of the mother.”
> #(i.e. Even Aquinas, one of the Great Souls who valued life above all
> and gave everything he had, even he accepted the possibility that
> abortion may be right. This is also an example of first refuting the
> authority and credibility of the opposing position and then using it
> to bolster the writers arguments. “The Church is wrong, but their
> great Saint on the other hand agrees with us.”)
> - “Abortion was allowed only by the “double effect” argument, . . .
> The subsequent death of the foetus is an unfortunate, but allowed,
> side-effect, so the action was considered morally acceptable.”
> #(i.e. A crack in the façade of "The "Church" has been identified.
> Their authority and their voice has been compromised. Again this
> treats the voice of the opposition with disdain and then does a
> turnabout and uses it to support the writer’s position.)
> This is so very clear and so very cliché. What the writer is saying
> here (after having foisted upon us the declaration that the section is
> what "The Church" has taught while using the implied but non-existent
> authority to make such a statement) is that the traditional voices
> that speak for a position have been brought down. That other position
> is without the underpinnings to proceed with their argument.
> This is also continued in the following section mixing the two
> categories to some extent and muddying the issue, to wit:
> - Roman Catholic Attitudes:
> * (a) Vatican II: Gaudium et Spes (1960’s): personhood is hard to
> define for a foetus.
> #(Appeal to authority plus "They don't know")
> * (b) In 1975, the Congregation of Faith (a body in the Catholic
> church which establishes doctrine) said: it cannot be established with
> certainty that a person is made at the moment of conception,
> #(Appeal to authority plus "They don't know")
> * (c) In 1976, the attitude of Vatican II was repeated. Laws allowing
> abortion were declared immoral. IUD and the mini-pill were declared
> #(Appeal to authority plus "They really don't know" and considering
> the antecedents the writer here is also saying, "but they are willing
> to take a position without substance as I, the writer define it")
> This is diatribe, not encyclopedia.
> This continues under the subheading
> D. Twentieth Century
> - New Understandings: . . . labels such as zygote, embryo, foetus,
> infant are arbitrary
> - New Moral Arguments:
> * [A, B & C] are now used by some ethicists to argue for the
> acceptability of abortion.
> * The moral distinction between born and unborn has been disputed,
> * There is a wider vision of the purpose or aims of sexuality; it is
> not just about having children.
> - New Conclusions: Biomedical science cannot say when a being with the
> rights of a human person comes into existence; neither is an answer
> likely from Philosophy, Theology or Law.
> Into the next section
> - "3. The Moral Status of a Foetus: does it have human rights?"
> * 1. We feel differently about killing humans and non-humans.
> #The line is drawn in the sand, using the comparison here of baboon
> babies or human ones
> The 'we' voice continues to provide us direction and identity, the
> comparisons are meant to show us the error of our ways and the flaws
> in our thinking. At this point in 1969 in a university or a high
> school class I would have expected the professor or teacher to stand
> before the class with arms raised and declare Nixon a vile and evil
> man to be resisted or, if it was their counterpart at say, Country
> Club Christian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas (not making any of
> this up) to encourage us to support our president and to enlist to
> kill commies for Christ.
> *PROBLEM: Only one voice (filtered through the writers assumed
> authority to represent that voice) speaks for the opposing view. Lest
> you may have missed this. The entire argument is made against a straw
> man identified as “The Church.”
> *My point (besides the obvious problem of taking issue with this
> diatribe, i.e. never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel) is
> that the writer is treating the reader as a gullible undergraduate
> fresh out of high school and this forum as a legitimate means to
> advance a very controversial point of view while degrading the voice
> of the opposing view of a very specific group.
> It must be extensively re-worked.
> On 27/10/07 03:13, "Larry Sanger" <sanger at citizendium.org> wrote:
> Matt Innis has reinstated the article, by editor request.
> Clearly, it needs to be formatted and rendered into encyclopedic
> form. As it stands now, it looks like course notes. For that
> reason, I've moved the article to the talk page: it needs to be
> formatted and rendered into regular prose paragraphs, at the very
> least, before it can be displayed even as an "article in progress."
> I don't actually spot any very obvious bias problems. It looks
> like excellent course notes (I can't tell if they are the
> teacher's or the student's!) for several hours of
> lecture/discussion about abortion in a philosophy class.
> My opinion, not as editor-in-chief but as someone who has taught
> the subject to college students, is that it's an excellent place
> to start. But you'd really have to know the subject to be able to
> convert these raw notes into an article. That's why I've put the
> article on the talk page.
> Note that we already have an article that covers medical methods
> of contraception:
> -----Original Message-----
> *From:* cz-biology-bounces at mail.citizendium.org
> [mailto:cz-biology-bounces at mail.citizendium.org]
> <mailto:cz-biology-bounces at mail.citizendium.org%5D> *On Behalf
> Of *Diana Zuckerman
> *Sent:* Friday, October 26, 2007 9:57 AM
> *To:* John Hymers; Dr. S N Sarbadhikari
> *Cc:* cz-philosophy at voltaire.citizendium.org;
> cz-biology at voltaire.citizendium.org; John Stephenson;
> czinternal-constable at voltaire.citizendium.org;
> cz-health-sci at voltaire.citizendium.org
> *Subject:* Re: [Cz-biology] [Cz-health-sci] [Cz-philosophy]
> Abortion article
> I'd also like to see it.
> Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D.
> National Research Center for Women & Families
> 1701 K Street, NW, Suite 700
> Washington, DC 20006
> (202) 223-4000
> www.center4research.org <http://www.center4research.org>
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* John Hymers <mailto:hymers at gmail.com>
> *To:* Dr. S N Sarbadhikari <mailto:supten at amrita.edu>
> *Cc:* cz-biology at mail.citizendium.org ;
> cz-philosophy at mail.citizendium.org ; John Stephenson
> <mailto:citizendium at linguistics.org.uk> ;
> cz-health-sci at mail.citizendium.org ;
> czinternal-constable at mail.citizendium.org
> *Sent:* Friday, October 26, 2007 7:53 AM
> *Subject:* Re: [Cz-health-sci] [Cz-philosophy] Abortion
> although i am sure your judgement was correct, i would
> still love to read this piece ...
> cheers, john
> On 10/26/07, *Dr. S N Sarbadhikari* < supten at amrita.edu
> <mailto:supten at amrita.edu> > wrote:
> I agree with Harvey
> > I don't see why it is necessary to "do" anything with
> it (except
> > perhaps
> > to add citations to referenced philosphers).
> > The author has done an excellent job of showing both
> sides, meaning
> > that
> > extremists on both sides will be annoyed. There is no
> way an article on a
> > controversial topic can be written without annoying
> someone. Let it be.
> > Harvey
> > =========================
> > Harvey S. Frey MD PhD Esq.
> > hsfrey at harp.org www.harp.org <http://www.harp.org>
> > =========================
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: "John Stephenson" <
> citizendium at linguistics.org.uk
> <mailto:citizendium at linguistics.org.uk> >
> > To: <Cz-biology at mail.citizendium.org>;
> > <Cz-health-sci at mail.citizendium.org
> <mailto:Cz-health-sci at mail.citizendium.org >
> <mailto:Cz-health-sci at mail.citizendium.org%20> >;
> > <cz-philosophy at mail.citizendium.org>
> > Cc: <czinternal-constable at mail.citizendium.org
> <mailto:czinternal-constable at mail.citizendium.org> >
> > Sent: Thursday, October 25, 2007 11:08 PM
> > Subject: [Cz-health-sci] Abortion article
> >> To biologists, health scientists and philosophers
> (copied to
> >> constabulary in case of future problems),
> >> You might want to take a look at the Abortion
> article, started by new
> >> author Peter Whale. I really don't know what to do
> or where to begin
> >> with it.
> >> http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Abortion
> >> He has assigned it to the philosophy workgroup.
> >> John.
> Cz-philosophy mailing list
> Cz-philosophy at mail.citizendium.org
> Cz-philosophy mailing list
> Cz-philosophy at mail.citizendium.org
Dr. John Hymers
Katholiek Universiteit Leuven
Centre for Ethics
tel. +32 16 324558
fax. +32 16 323788
Personal Web site:
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