April 13, 2016

Careful thinking

Stefonknee Wolscht: 52-year-old father of 7, now a 6-year-old girl with "parents"
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, April 14, 2016

Careful thinking

Please think carefully about the following three theses.

1. “Your beliefs don't make you a better person, your behavior does.”

For this thesis to make moral sense depends on what one believes “a better person” is. It also depends on what one believes is behaviour that is good or what a better person ought to do.

Ted Bundy (rapist and murderer of 20+ women) believed that “a better person” is one who is daring and willing to rape and murder.

In other words, ideas have consequences, so the idea, i.e., what is believed, matters.

As philosopher David Horner points out, “what we believe will determine how we behave, and ultimately who we become.”

Of course, beliefs not acted upon don't amount to much. To paraphrase the Apostle James: belief without behaviour is dead.

But we should also add the whole counsel of Scripture (and reason): behaviour without belief is blind.

My point: To ensure that our behaviour amounts to something truly good also requires accurate beliefs about what is truly good. (So orthopraxis/ right behaviour implicitly presupposes right belief that orthopraxis is truly good.)

2. “It matters not who you love or how you love, it matters only that you love.”

Yes, this seems loving.

But pause and think: “I love you,” said the married businessman to his good-looking female secretary, as the businessman abandons his young children along with his wife who is dying of cancer.

“I love you,” said the cannibal to his dinner; “I love you,” said the pedophile to the child; “I love you,” said the sadist to his torture victims.

Clearly, we must define “love.” Love has a moral structure and truth content.

Jesus, who Christians believe is God come to Earth as a human being, taught that love is of utmost importance, and He modeled love for us. Significantly, Jesus also taught that He didn't abolish the truth of the moral law—in fact, He intensified it. (Yes, Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, but He also told her to leave her life of sin.)

3. “What I feel is who I am.”

A presently popular idea is that personal identity—i.e., what I am—is wholly a personal matter, a matter merely of subjective feeling/ intuition.

Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner basically holds this view. He feels he is a woman so he is a woman—and so he has had plastic surgery to “feminize his face and throat, has had hormone therapy for growth of breasts, and may undergo surgery to remove his testicles plus use (mutilate) his penis to construct a “vagina.

But if my feelings about myself and my identity are trump, what follows?

It means that we must not only accept Jenner's view to be true, but also the claims of “otherkin.

Otherkin are people who self-identify as—i.e., who feel they actually are, at least in part or wholly—non-human. A young Norwegian woman recently made headlines because she feels she is (and lives as if she is) a cat. Others feel they are foxes, dragons, etc.

If feelings about self and identity are trump, we should also accept the claims of the “transabled.

Transabled are people who feel that they are impostors if their body is in full working order, so they seek to amputate a limb or otherwise mutilate or disable themselves.

A young American woman felt she would be whole if she were blind, so, with help from a sympathetic psychologist, blinded herself with drain cleaner.

But, surely, the truth is that you are not in fact an impostor if your body is in full working order.

Also, there is a case of a 52-year-old Canadian man who feels he is a 6-year-old girl—i.e., he feels he is transgendered and transaged.

Clearly, the view that feelings about identity are trump lands us in obvious absurdities and falsehoods.

Overall lessons: Love is important. So is truth. So is careful thinking.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)

For additional thought:

I have noticed time and again that many intelligent people don't understand the nature of the logic that appears in the third portion of my above article (and in several of my other columns).  The logic being used in the third portion of my article is called reductio ad absurdum. In a reductio ad absurdum argument, we assume, temporarily for the sake of argument, that the view under investigation is true (in the present case, we assume the truth of "what I feel is who I am," i.e., that personal identity—what I am—is wholly a personal matter, a matter wholly of subjective feeling/ intuition, i.e., my feelings about myself and my identity are trump). We approach the view in question with the attitude, "Okay, let's say it's true. What follows logically?" If the logical consequences of the view's assumed truth are false or logically contradictory, then it follows that the view under investigation is false or at least deeply problematic. (Because valid deductive argument disallows the possibility of true premises and a false conclusion, the known falsity of the conclusion/ consequences gotten by valid deductive argument means that we also know the premise/ view can't be true.) In other words, the examples (above) are not arbitrary, disconnected, or "all over the map." They are the logical consequences of the view under investigation. If we accept the truth of feelings being trump over reality, then the truth of the examples should all follow. But clearly they aren't all true. The proper response/ conclusion, then, should be this: the view that feelings are trump over reality is false.

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