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The Corrosion of Normal Moral Thinking

October 6, 2010 2 comments

I just picked up Sam Harris’s new book and am excited to sink my teeth in, but the USA Today has an article in its “Faith & Reason” section that seems to give a remarkable example of what happens when reason doesn’t guide moral thinking. Only someone whose mind is polluted by theological rot could question if a child born using In vitro fertilisation is still a child!

Do you think a baby conceived in test tube is still a child in the eyes — or mind or hands, depending on your theology/philosophy — of God?

Now, the article certainly doesn’t dismiss this as a ridiculous question but happily quotes church officials and ethicists who disparage IVF. Check out this “staggering” result of advances in reproductive technology. Arthur Caplan writes,

The implications are just staggering. Even some of the arguments about gay marriage spin out from the fact that IVF lets gay people have children.

I know, what a horrible thought… gay people having children! Oh wait… they might not even be children…

As if we needed another let this be a reminder that religious thinking isn’t a synonym for moral thinking, it is a faulty substitute for it.

This is as good a place as any to share a few thoughts I had about another burgeoning reproductive technology. It will soon become easy to choose your baby’s gender. Many ethicists obviously have serious qualms about this. I’m not sure if this is a common philosophical technique or not, but I begin looking at the question as if humans already and naturally had the ability to predetermine their child’s gender. If so, would the government have the right to prevent parents from exercising that capacity? Maybe yes, if the world begin suffering immensely from some major gender imbalance, but it seems under most unextreme circumstances it would be absurd to consider taking that inherent ability away from people. 

If I’m correct about that it suggests that the state shouldn’t prevent people from gaining that ability through medical advancement. After all, just like a child born from IVF is still equally a child, the ability being natural or “artificial” shouldn’t weigh on our judgement of it.

Texting And Unintended Consequences

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

From time to time, I throw up a post about unintended consequences because it nicely illustrates the limits and problems with government action. This should always be kept in mind whenever I or anyone else advocates for any particular policy from the state. Although, recognizing that unintended consequences follow from almost every policy (the larger the more potential unintended consequences) shouldn’t paralyze us. The status quo’s consequences might just be worse than any result of the policy. Yet, it should humble us and remind us to pursue as minimal intervention as possible to correct any negative externality.

In Massachusetts a texting ban while driving will soon go into effect. But the a recent study found texting bans making things worse.

Researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute compared rates of collision insurance claims in four states — California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington — before and after they enacted texting bans. Crash rates rose in three of the states after bans were enacted.

The Highway Loss group theorizes that drivers try to evade police by lowering their phones when texting, increasing the risk by taking their eyes even further from the road and for a longer time.

Another reminder that having empirical data to back one’s case, not just good intentions, can lead to better policy and better outcomes.

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