Causing Death and Saving Lives


In Causing Deaths and Saving Lives Jonathan Glover offers a broadly utilitarian analysis of killing. It is, however, not purely utilitarian; Glover makes room for respecting the autonomy of those who wish to go on living even if we cannot determine what it is that makes their lives worth living (perhaps, though, this grounded in some kind of rule utilitarianism). Indeed, Glover thinks that the wrongness of killing (considered apart from its side-effects on others) is explained by either the overriding of another’s autonomy or by reducing the total amount of worthwhile life that would otherwise exist if no life-thwarting action were taken. While this classic volume is easy to read, non-technical, honest, and fair, the foundational assumptions seem to me to be drastically flawed.

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There Are No Fertilized Eggs

A quick and dirty argument:

  1. For all humans, if there are fertilized eggs, then humans are such that they hatch from them.
  2. Humans don’t hatch from eggs.
  3. Therefore, there are no fertilized eggs.

On Jonathan Glover’s Definition of Death

513308Jonathan Glover defines death as the irreversible loss of consciousness. This, he thinks avoids a problem posed by a thought experiment: imagine a man’s heart stops and a doctor is poised to revive him fully expecting to get his heart going again. But the man’s heir plunges a knife into his chest before the doctor can do anything. Does the heir violate a corpse or take the life of an innocent human being? He violates a corpse only if death is defined by the cessation of pulmonary circulation. But that is very counterintuitive; what really matters is the irreversible loss of consciousness, something that could have been regained if the doctor had revived the patient.

Objection: suppose the heir doesn’t interfere and the doctor gets the man’s heart going again, but unfortunately the man never regains consciousness. After the doctor determines that the man’s consciousness has been irreversibly lost, the man’s heir plunges the knife into the man’s chest. Does he violate a corpse or kill an innocent human being? It seems clear that he doesn’t violate a corpse; therefore he kills an innocent human being, which means the definition of death has nothing to do with the irreversible loss of consciousness.

Is “Might” the Opposite of “Will Not”? Some Rough Thoughts

Rachel Held Evans has a nice Q & A with Greg Boyd where he is asked to explain features of his Open Theism. Among the parts that interested me is this excerpt.

Philosophers and theologians have often defined “divine omniscience” as “God’s knowledge of the truth value of all meaningful propositions.” I completely agree with this. Unfortunately, they typically assumed that propositions about what “will” and “will not” occur exhaust the field of meaningful propositions about the future.  They thus concluded that God eternal knows all that will and will not take place and that there is nothing else for God to know.  

This is a mistake, however, because propositions about what “might and might not” take place are also meaningful, and God must therefore know the truth value of these. Moreover, the opposite of “might” is “will not,” and the opposite of “might not” is “will.”  So, if a “might and might not” proposition is true, then the corresponding propositions about what “will” and “will not” take place are both false. For example, if its true that “Greg might and might not buy a blue Honda in 2016,” then its false that “Greg will (certainly) buy a blue Honda in 2016” and false that “Greg will (certainly) not buy a blue Honda in 2016.” So too, if it ever becomes true that “Greg will (certainly) buy a blue Honda in 2016” or true that “Greg will (certainly) not buy a blue Honda in 2016,” then it will be false that “Greg might and might not buy a blue Honda in 2016.”  And since God knows the truth value of all propositions, God would know precisely when it is true that I “might and might not” buy this car and when it becomes true that I either “will” or “will not.”  God thus faces a partly open future.

This is controversial. Why assume that statements about what “might” happen contradict those about “will not”?  It seems this sort of statement is meaningful too: “I could run through the streets naked in the next 5 minutes, but I will not. The “could” here expresses the possibility of those (terrible) states of affairs, and the “will not” expresses that they shall not come to pass, owing to my rational choice. There is nothing contradictory about saying this sort of thing, but the semantic analysis Boyd gives of “might” would make it so. Thus, we have reason to doubt his analysis. Continue reading

On Counting (countable) Infinite Sets

Computability and LogicThis is an especially vivid illustration from the third edition of Boolos and Jeffrey’s Computability and Logic:

If a set is enumerable, Zeus can enumerate it in one second by writing out an infinite list faster and faster. He spends 1/2 second writing the first entry in the list; 1/4 second writing the second entry; 1/8 second writing the third; and in general, he writes each entry in half the time he spent on its predecessor. At no point during the one second interval has he written out the whole list, but when one second has passed, the list is compete!

Pg. 14.

Notable Books Read in 2013

Here are some raves and rants pertaining to some of the books I read in 2013 (they may have been published some other year). Enjoy ~

Must Reads:

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King. It is a shame that the only thing I knew about Thurgood Marshall before I read this book was that he was the first African-American Justice on the SCOTUS and that he argued Brown v. Board of Eduation. His work on behalf of the civil rights movement is truly heroic. Nor had I any idea that Florida was second only to Mississippi in lynching. While good history rarely involves a plot framed in terms of good guys versus bad guys, this one truly does. My favorite book of the year. Kept me up late turning the proverbial digital pages.

Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction by Allen C. Guelzo. Anyone who can tell the story of the how the Civil War began, how it progressed, and how it ended, including the nightmare of Reconstruction, under 600 pages is to be commended. By one of my favorite historians to boot.

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Favorite Songs of 2013

It’s that time of year again—the time whenI put together a list of my favorite songs of the year. Two observations: (1) this was the year of the woman—lots of good female vocalists this year; (2) I tend to really like music that is slow and relaxing. I suppose that makes me a thoroughly lame adult now (sorry sixteen-year-old self, you were a person who hated this kind of stuff). The best explanation for this change, I think, is this: when I was sixteen, I thought my life was boring and I felt less bored when I listened to grunge era rock and roll. Now as a graduate student, I feel busier than ever, so I take comfort in tunes that slow things down. Well, whatever. The order by which they are arranged is incidental only to flow of the playlist—no rankings here.

Listen to it on Grooveshark. 

1. Drive Darling [acoustic] by Boy. This one is for the long road trip my wife and I made from California to South Carolina. Very fitting for the new adventure.

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