Drone Strikes from Classical Realist and Liberal Perspectives

Introduction:
The recent drone strikes carried out in various locations in the Middle East by the United States have sparked public outrage with leaked reports of innocent civilian casualties along with immense collateral damage to the countries in which the drone strikes were executed. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), John Brennan, President Obama’s top counter-terrorism advisor, publicly stated in June of 2011 that, for nearly one calendar year, no civilian had perished during drone strikes occurring in Pakistan. Recently leaked intelligence documents have shown this statement to be blatantly false. Less than two months before Brennan’s statement, leaked CIA documents admit to a civilian casualty that occurred on April 22, 2011. The drone strike in question took place on April 22 and destroyed a home just before dawn. There were at least 25 casualties, including five civilians who were identified as women and children (BIJ).

These preventable civilian deaths and the lack of transparency of the Obama Administration’s actions and policies, in turn, has created a controversy in which the legality of drone strikes has been questioned by a variety of international organizations, including the United Nations. Though drones can be utilized for a variety of purposes, the controversy focuses on the recent practice of “targeted killings” in which the aim is not to “neutralize, contain, or incarcerate” certain individuals but to “eliminat[e] them completely” (Buckley, 440). 

What is striking about the recent controversy over the legality and use of combat drones is that it represents a classic example of the quintessential differences between a realist and liberal perspectives on international law. Representing the realist perspective is the Obama Administration et al. This synecdoche consists of President Obama, his national security advisers, and other political and social figures who openly endorse the use of drone strikes as being compatible with international law. In contrast, the liberal perspective is provided by various academic scholars and leaders of international organizations such as Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, U.N. Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns, and scholar Mark Freeman among others.

In this context, there are certain aspects of each theoretical approach to international relations that are extremely pertinent to the discussion of drone attacks as a case study. Viewing realism and liberalism as antitheses, the former focuses its attention on the state as the primary actor in international relations, values security over freedom in the international system, and prefers power to interdependence in relationships to other countries. Meanwhile the latter places an emphasis on the individual (whether alone or as part of a larger governmental or non-governmental organization), is typically against unilateral action, and stresses interdependence through cooperation for solving collective international problems.

According to classical realism, there is an emphasis on a state’s security through the acquisition, maintenance, and use of power. Though power comes in two forms, hard and soft, classical realists prefer hard power in the form of conventional weapons and military capabilities such as missiles, tanks, and, in this case, combat drones (Pease, 43). The utilization of drones in armed conflict, in theory, provides for a greater likelihood of maintaining national security from external threats such as terrorist groups. If, in the process, human rights are violated or civilians are injured or killed, so long as the costs and benefits are either neutral or more beneficial, then it is a justified risk for a state to take. Hence, security trumps freedom as a priority (Pease, 44-45). In addition, realists view alliances and, by extension, interdependence as problematic. The presence of an alliance or international agreement is by no means a guarantee of survival or security. An alliance is only as strong as its weakest member and that potential weakness encourages unilateral action in many instances. As a result, the condition of being a state that is too interdependent on one country or one group of countries is abhorred (Pease, 45-46).

According to classical liberalism, there is a concentration on the individual and individual rights. These most often include the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of private property and are based on the values of autonomy, equality, and participatory government (Pease, 60). These rights are understood to be universal to persons solely on the basis of their humanity (Pease, 62). As a result, the quest for power via violent means by any actor on the international stage is strictly discouraged for fear of violating those fundamental rights. Instead, liberals focus on international interdependence and cooperation to solve international problems, especially those relating to security such as drone strikes. They seek to create a global system in which economic and political ties are strongly shared among countries so as to encourage diplomacy and interdependence rather than violence and isolation (Pease, 65). 

This paper will (I) provide some background information into the history and development of drone strikes, (II) explore the key arguments given for and against the legality of combat drones against Al-Qaeda in the War on Terror, and (III) will provide evidence and argumentation towards the conclusion that the use of drone strikes can be legal within an international law framework but that the United States must modify the practices of drone strikes beforehand. The geographical focus of this paper will be mainly Pakistan with certain parts pertaining to drone operations as a whole.

Background:
Drones were originally intended to serve as tools of surveillance. There were first used for aerial reconnaissance during the ethnic conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. However, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, drones became equipped with extremely advanced weapons systems and were authorized by President Bush for use in instances of anticipatory self-defense against terrorist organizations under the supervision and guidance of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Though President Bush carried out several drone assaults, the total number of these attacks greatly increased after President Obama took office (Brunstetter and Braun, 340-341).

International Law:
According to a publication by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), though both International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) aim to protect citizens of the world, there are important distinctions to be made between the two. The key distinction for the legality of drone attacks is whether they fall under the jurisdiction of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) which provides rules and regulations for states during times of war and armed conflict or whether they fall under the jurisdiction of International Human Rights Law (IHRL) which is more stringent in its defense of universal human rights (Blank, 724-727). 

IHRL focuses on defining and defending the rights of individuals that can be expected or claimed from governments. IHRL is derived from treaty sources that include the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) and the Conventions on Genocide (1948) Racial Discrimination (1965), Discrimination Against Women (1979) (ICRC). 

With a significant amount of content overlapping with IHRL, IHL focuses on providing a framework for acceptable solutions to humanitarian issues that arise from international and non-international armed conflicts. IHL derives its legal status from treaty sources such as the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 as well as the Additional Protocol I of 1977 (ICRC).

The conflict around these two international law paradigms focuses on the language provided by certain international treaties. The Obama Administration has claimed that the War on Terror with Al-Qaeda being the target counts as an armed conflict even though the battles are taking place in Pakistan, there is ambiguity concerning whether or not terrorists are combatants or civilians engaging in casualties or even a third category that has yet to be developed, and, similarly, which sets of rights the terrorists can claim under international law. There are also concerns for drone use within the Just War tradition (Ohlin, 29-36). 

Many liberals approach the drone controversy from an IHRL approach. Because IHRL seeks to more stringently uphold human rights (particularly the right to life), this approach can be extremely limiting for military operations, only allowing for very narrowly defined and executed courses of action. Under International Human Rights Law (IHRL), the use of drones for targeted killings is unlikely to ever be justified. Drawing upon Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), IHRL stipulates that no person is to be arbitrarily deprived nor can lethal force be utilizing unless there are lawful reasons for doing so (Wuschka, 897). Not only do they violate individuals’ right to life, but they also violate a state’s sovereignty, result in unnecessary collateral damage, and undermine much of international law (Freeman). 

Proponents of an IHRL based approach to the legality, or lack thereof, of drone strikes appeal to Common Article 3, found in all four of the Geneva Conventions (ICRC). Common Article 3, paragraph 1 states that persons who are not actively engaged in hostile activities (persons including members of armed forces who have stopped engaging in hostile activities for any reason) must always, regardless of condition or time, be treated indiscriminately concerning “race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria” (ICRC). In addition, sections (a), (c), and (d), of that same paragraph explicitly list actions which may not be conducted by either armed force in a non-international armed conflict. 

Liberals would point out that these drone strikes clearly violate sections (a) in that the drone strikes are used to purposefully kill another human being, and (d), in the sense that the drone strikes do not allow for the proper use of judicial systems, of paragraph 1 and arguably violate section (c), since targeted killings seem to imply a kind of inferiority aspect, as well. 

Yet realists approach the drone strikes from an IHL approach. They argue that in the context of an armed conflict, it is necessary to derogate from certain human rights in order to address emergency situations that could threaten the continued existence of a nation. The Obama Administration is on record as having stated that the use of combat drones has been justified upon the foundation of self-defense. As a result of the terrorist attacks on American soil on September 11, 2001, the United States found itself at war with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and has taken military action in what is known as the “War on Terror” (Ohlin, 30).

Liberal Arguments:
For one, critics claim that there is not enough transparency and accountability regarding protocols. This has become extremely problematic as of late due to the fact that there have been numerous civilian deaths that have occurred because of combat drone strikes. One source puts the civilian death toll between 411 and 884 with 168-197 of those consisting of children (BIJ). Yet these numbers are not authoritative since there have been conflicting accounts and numbers. 

In addition, cryptic remarks made by various CIA officials have raised concern in the international community. The CIA’s general counsel, Stephen Preston, in an address to the Harvard Law School in April of 2012, stated that the agency would use force “in a manner consistent with the…basic principles” of the laws of war (Human Rights Watch). This remark concerned James Ross, the legal and policy director of the group Human Rights Watch who states that this could signify a serious disrespect towards firmly established international laws which could result in abuses of powers and legal transgressions (Human Rights Watch). 

Another argument advanced on a liberal perspective is that the drone strikes constitute a violation of a state’s sovereignty. One proponent of this view is Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. During an event hosted at the Asia Society she openly declared that “The use of unilateral strikes on Pakistani territory is illegal” (Huffington Post). Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter forbids the threat and use of force by one member state against any other. The only possible exceptions to this rule are in the cases of consent from the host state, when the use of force pertains to self-defense or when the host state is unwilling or unable to take necessary action (Living Under Drones). 

Yet liberals argue that Pakistan clearly does not give consent if they are condemning the drone strikes. In addition, liberals question whether or not the Obama Administration can legitimately claim to be acting in self-defense if the terrorist attacks against America took place over a decade ago. Finally, liberals point out that the police and military forces in Pakistan have worked with the United States in trying to combat terrorism in the region showing that they are willing (Living Under Drones). 

Finally, scholars note that drone attacks do not seem to be in accordance with the Principles of Just War. To provide some brief background, the Principle of Distinction holds that there are two main groups present within armed conflicts, combatants and civilians. The latter are not legitimate military targets and should be treated with the utmost respect concerning international legal rights. Meanwhile the Principle of Proportionality states that the means of military force must be measured against the objectives that must be met. Excessive force, either in quantity or quality, is forbidden (Brunstetter and Braun, 347). 

Liberals argue that these principles have been violated in drone strikes which have resulted in the loss of life of innocent civilians. Critics state that a single casualty of this nature shows that drone strikes cannot properly adhere to the Principle of Distinction. Furthermore, the use of drone strikes brings with it opportunities for great abuse of power such as utilizing drone strikes in inappropriate contexts and for inappropriate uses (Ohlin 28-29). 

Realist Arguments:
One argument advanced from a realist perspective asserts that drones positively enhance the Just War tradition under international law, rather than violating it, by providing technological means that can better adhere to the Principles of Distinction and Principles of Proportionality. Put another way, drones bring with them numerous advantages compared to more traditional weapons and military forces that justify their use.

First, drones, in comparison to fighter jets and other military aircraft, are able of navigating more difficult terrain, such as the mountainous regions of Middle Eastern countries, in order to find a specific target or groups of targets. Rather than having to use high powered bombs and other explosives that may result in unnecessary collateral damage, in addition to not being very effective, drones are able to more selectively focus on combatants thereby upholding the Principle of Distinction (Wuschka, 896). 

Next, the use of drone makes the need for infantry troops and other larger military operations superfluous. Drones are able, in theory, to complete the jobs of multiple soldiers, weapons, and tools at one time. Drones can be utilized for surveillance, for target killings, and much more. They can often alternate between these divergent roles within the same context as well. As a result, drones can ensure that no excessive means are being utilized when applying force to achieve military objectives (Brunstetter and Braun, 343). 

The Obama Administration also counters claims that it is violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan by noting that in 2008 Pakistan’s governmental leaders asked for assistance from the United States in the form of increased drone strikes (Living Under Drones). In addition, realists would argue that Pakistan suffers from an inability to combat the terrorists when left to their own means. Pakistan’s government does not have the material or human resources necessary to dismantle Al-Qaeda strongholds in the country. As a result, these two factors provide enough justification for the United States’ drone strikes in Pakistan on a realist interpretation. 

Proposed Solutions:
The author of this paper argues that the use of drone strikes can be completely legal so long as certain conditions are met. That being said, some of these conditions have yet to be met. As a result, the author proposes a series of changes in order to ensure that drone strikes are legal under international law.

For one, there needs to be more transparency concerning the targets of drone strikes, the number of drone strikes carried out per year per location, the number of civilian and combatant and soldier casualties, and more information of the like. This information must be made available to the general public so that if grave offenses to domestic or international laws, or the principles upon which those laws are founded, are committed, the general public can engage in the proper response to rectify those mistakes through respective governmental processes and institutions. The justification for this measure comes from the fact that the loss of innocent civilian life from these strikes has been excessive. In order to accomplish this, the author suggests that control over subsequent drone strikes be placed in the hands of an appropriate military command. 

Next, there needs to be modification to current international law. Clearly IHRL cannot be applied properly to this situation. Terrorists, members of Al-Qaeda, fall between the cracks of contemporary categories of parties involved in violent conflicts (Ohlin 33-36). Terrorists are neither clearly combatants because they do not always carry weapons or engage in subversive activities. Yet they are also not as innocent as civilians who only engage in hostilities for a short amount of time, likely as an emotional response to a specific incident. Yet the designation “unlawful combatant” in which all internationally recognized human rights are denied is morally repugnant and violates international norms (Buckley, 449). 

In addition, the concept of self-defense as a pretense for just war must be examined. While the original terrorist attacks of 9/11 provided more than enough justification for the United States’ claim of self-defense, the fact that this is still the justification being used over a decade later and is being more or less accepted by the international community is impermissible (Living Under Drones). There needs to be some kind of temporal or geographical criteria added to the concept of self-defense to prevent any further instances of self-defense pretenses being abused.

Finally, there should be more human soldiers present on the front line than there have been. Wuschka notes that drones do not have to eliminate a targeted individual upon first encounter. Rather, the drones can observe and collect information about the target’s activity and the surrounding environment (Wuschka, 896). This kind of monitoring would allow the CIA to gather necessary information in order to coordinate a non-lethal arrest. In addition, considering the weapons capabilities, why can drones not be equipped with non-lethal yet effective systems used to stun and capture a target? Even a strong, giant net could be used to swoop in, grab the target, and extradite him to another place to await trial for various war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Measuring Islamophobia in France

In his article Islamophobia: a French Specificity in Europe? Vincent Geisser argues that while French society and culture exhibits symptoms of Islamophobia, there is no official or institutionalized prejudice against Muslims and thus the claim is inappropriately used. Rather, these symptoms are derived from cultural and historical causes within French society. These combined forces aim to convert or transform potentially dangerous aspects of political Islam into a more Western and Francophone friendly version of itself.

One assumption that Geisser makes is that the degree to which a country can be considered Islamophobic relies upon the nature of its political institutions. That is to say, in order to properly declare that France was more Islamophobic than, say, England, France’s government, not any private or social sectors, ought to demonstrate some form of institutional racism against Islam as a whole. Lacking any such overt prejudices, France cannot be described as genuinely Islamophobic. However, this seems to be a useless measure of Islamophobia since nearly all countries devoted, either genuinely or in rhetoric alone, to Western and liberal ideals such as equality, rule of law, and democracy would seek to avoid such overtly racist institutions or courses of action for fear of domestic and international repercussions. Rather, the covert forms of prejudice such as anti-Islamic newspaper and magazine articles, reports on the evening news, and the plethora of websites devoted to condemning the actions and beliefs of Muslims the world over ought to be taken into account as well.

Another assumption that Geisser makes is that the presence of a historically antagonistic and changing relationship between French society and Islam somehow discounts the possibility of Islamophobia. He essentially argues that because the relationship between these two entities has been amicable at some times and hostile others, it does not or should not count as a case of Islamophobia. However, this seems to ignore the entire social problem with Islamophobia. It does not matter whether or not Islamophobia has developed as an entirely new phenomenon of its own or external accord, but whether or not it is present at all. Instances of anti-Islamic behaviour mark a disturbing aspect of social beliefs and actions that must be eliminated through education and tolerance.

Furthermore, Geisser states that instances of Islamophobia reduce to “assaults on Muslims and attacks on mosques.” However, Islamophobic behaviour is not just limited to physical violence. This ignores the belief aspect of Islamophobia, arguably the most crucial aspect of the phenomenon, while focusing almost solely on the action aspect. But Islamophobic behaviour is not just limited to that which is violent and aimed at Muslims. It can be public criticisms in the media, it can be racial slurs that appear on Internet websites and blogs, or it could be just prejudice and generalized beliefs held by a particular person. Geisser’s assumption is thus too reductionistic.

Regarding evidence, Geisser advances a historical argument that charts the various shifts in how French citizens and Muslims related and interacted. He notes that during the Middle Ages when Christendom was struggling to establish itself as a global power, European Christians viewed Muslims as a mortal enemy. This alleviated some of the sectarian tensions temporarily. Later, during the French Revolution, Islam was viewed more favorably by society since they were not associated with the Catholic Church, at the time, the revolutionaries’ most detested enemy to advancement and change. During this time, Geisser asserts, Muslims were viewed as an exotic and “outstandingly liberal” people due to their social and sexual norms. Yet this view, according to Geisser, was replaced by a more Eurocentric one due to the successes of modern science as well as the imperial conquests of various European nations. This sense of superiority led to a denigration of Muslim peoples and their culture. And, as Geisser notes, the consequences of these French imperialistic actions are still recorded in the minds of the conquered Muslim groups in places like Algeria.

Next, Geisser, in discussing the intricacies of the French/Islam relationship, argues that the lack of institutionalized Islamophobia within the French state is further aided by a “cold tolerance” towards Islam in general. Acknowledging the existence of institutions such as the French Council of the Muslim Faith and the Regional Councils of the Muslim Faith, Geisser argues that the French government is not against Islam, per se, but the public officials and politicians do want to transform the culture and the religion into something that can be properly and completely assimilated into French society without detrimental effects for the native population. Geisser’s sentiment is summed up perfectly by this quote “According to the French republican norm, a perfect Muslim is one who has given up a part of his faith, beliefs and ‘outdated’ religious practices.”

Overall, Geisser does make a logical argument but it is not effective or convincing. Due to the lack of clarity of his argument, I cannot say whether or not I agree with Geisser when he says that France is no more Islamophobic than any other European nation. Because he defines Islamophobia in such a narrow way, his argument appears to be correct but when one examines his concept of Islamophobia it is found to be lacking. The way he defines key concepts concerning Islamophobia seem to make caricatures of the real issues at hand. While he does provide credible evidence, he can also be considered guilty of committing the stacking the deck fallacy. He does not adequately explore the French nation’s push to remove the hijabs from Muslim women as a form of cultural chauvinism which directly ties into Islamophobia. Nor does he fully report all the different kinds of Islamophobic activities and crimes committed in recent times. As a result, his work is outdated because the situation in France has changed significantly in the two years since the article was published. So while his argument can be taken as validly constructed, the premises he advances do not forcibly or undeniably lead to the conclusion he puts forth.

 

Further reading:

http://www.france24.com/en/20121120-islamophobia-france-increasing-alarmingly-national-front-anti-semitism

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-08-09/world/35492129_1_veil-ban-french-muslims-ban-upsets

http://www.gallup.com/poll/157082/islamophobia-understanding-anti-muslim-sentiment-west.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamophobia

 

Findings from a Dictionary of Philosophy

 

Recently I had the urge to read up on some philosophical terms/concepts of religion for clarification purposes. The work I chose was “Dictionary of Philosophy of Religion” written by Charles Taliaferro. Most of the terms I already knew by description or experience but I didn’t know them by their proper names. So, I figured that I would share some of the more interesting finds.

Abduction – Abductive reasoning aims to explain phenomena on grounds of prior probability and/or reasonability. Abductive reasoning is the process used in exploring arguments to the best explanation. The most common form of abductive reasoning within the philosophy of religion discipline is exemplified by C. Stephen Layman in his book “Letters to Doubting Thomas.” In his book, Layman considers a variety of phenomena such as consciousness, moral truths and values, the presence of natural and moral evil, the creation/origin of the universe, and others on both theistic and naturalistic worldviews. He puts together a comprehensive case in which he argues that theism leads us to expect more of these phenomena than naturalism or materialism. Theism, he argues, has stronger explanations, provides more explanations, and escapes some of the more serious philosophical problems that naturalism or materialism does not.

Accidie – Accidie (also known as acedia) is a state that prevents the experience of pleasure and causes a person to reject life. Though it has historically been considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins (sloth), this is an incorrect definition. Sloth refers more to laziness and inconsistency rather than this debilitating feeling.

Acts and Omissions Doctrine – This doctrine states that when a person is in a situation which requires them to make an immoral decision, since the only decisions, by the nature of the situation, are both immoral, then it is better not to do something than to do something. The doctrine asserts that an act is more morally significant than a failure or indecision to act. Put another way, it is better to be passively immoral than actively immoral. Therefore, killing someone would be viewed as more morally reprehensible than simply allowing them to perish of their own accord since the former action requires more deliberation and effort.

Adventitious – A thought or an idea can be defined as adventitious when it comes to us from an external source. This is similar to Descartes’ argument about the idea of God. He stated that this idea of God (omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, etc.) had to have come from God Himself rather than being some made up fantasy or delusion on Descartes’ part. If Descartes is correct, then some concepts or ideas do derive their meaning and origin from an outside source.

Akrasia – This word is derived from Greek and roughly means “without power.” Akrasia specifically refers to a lack of will power. It is marked by a weakness of the will, an inability to overcome obstacles. There are two different types or kinds of akrasia: passive and active.

Passive akrasia occurs when one knows that a specific action is morally required but he/she lacks the will power or resolve to carry it out. An example would be throwing away your trash in the proper bin. If you have materials which can be recycled, you ought to put them in the recycling bin rather than the regular trash. Yet, for whatever reason, you decide to just put all of your trash (recyclables included) into the normal trash.

Meanwhile, active akrasia occurs when one knows that a specific action is morally wrong but they engage in such an endeavor regardless. A broad example of active akrasia is an addict who is self-aware enough to know that he has a problem, but not strong enough volitionally to do anything about it. He’s nearly to that point, but not quite. So he continues to make these bad decisions knowing full well what he is doing and how it is affecting him.

Antichrist – Though this most commonly refers to a person who attempts to replace or take over the role of being Christ, the true meaning of this word applies to anyone who goes against Christ. It does not require an active undermining so as to take over the position or role of Christ. And depending on how we define “going against Christ,” there could be literally billions of antichrists in the world at any given time. It’s an interesting thought. So what makes someone an antichrist? Is it someone who disobeys Christ’s moral teachings? Is it someone who challenges Christ’s religious beliefs? Is it someone who hopes for Christ to fail?

Casuistry – This is the science of applying general rules, laws, or principles to particular moral cases. Almost always there are situations pertaining to daily life in which certain moral rules, laws or principles come into conflict with one another. For example, we want to use some of our money from our savings account to buy ourselves a nice new pair of shoes or a new car or whatever have you but we know that our best friend’s birthday is coming up soon and we promised ourselves that we would buy them a very special gift. So how do we decide? Casuistry; in this particular instance, we know that it is generally better to be altruistic rather than selfish and by applying this general principle, we arrive at a conclusion rather easily. 

Charity, Principle of – This principle maintains that in any situation, one should assume or believe that other humans are intelligent, benevolent beings unless there are strong reasons for questioning the principle. Let’s say that you walk into your favorite restaurant and order a nice steak dinner. You are very particular about your steaks though. You want them very lightly cooked, seasoned with special herbs, and served with a pint of Guinness. For some reason, the cook screws up on the order and burns it to a crisp, after which your waiter spills your beer all over your nice slacks. In reacting to these events, the Principle of Charity encourages us not to fly off the handle and berate both the cook and the waiter but rather to accept what has happened in a mature and responsible fashion and to seek to move beyond it. That holds true unless we know that the cook is an ex-boyfriend of our wife or that the waiter heard you say that he’ll never finish college in which case you may be within your rights to berate them either individually or together.

Cooperation with Evil – Cicero advanced two distinct forms of cooperating with evil or evil-doers. The first is known as formal cooperation in which a person consents or agrees with an evil action or person. The second is known as material cooperation in which a person does not agree with an evil action or person but for whatever reason, they loan them the necessary materials or supplies needed to carry out the action. An example of the former would be a politician giving great sums of money to the Nazi Party in Germany because he supports the idea of an Aryan Germany, free from any Jewish people. An example of the latter would be letting your friend borrow your chainsaw which you thought he was going to use to cut down some pesky trees in his backyard but which he actually uses to slaughter his family. One can cooperate materially without consent, but one cannot cooperate formally without consent.

Dalai Lama – Dalai is Mongolian for “ocean” while Lama means “teacher.” Thus, the full concept can be defined as a teacher with a spirituality that is as deep as an ocean.

Demythologize – Demythologizing is a practice developed by German theologian Rudolf Bultmann in which one aims to find the truth, the essence, the core of Christianity by looking behind or beyond or through the various supernatural stories of miracles, Heaven/Hell, bodily resurrections, and so on. Charles Taliaferro gives a great example: “A demythologized view of Christ may deny that Christ was the incarnation of the incorporeal Creator God of the cosmos, but it may take the Christian teaching of Christ’s life as advancing a radical call for persons to live a courageous life of compassion in the pursuit of justice and mercy” (61). Such demythologizing was extremely popular during the Enlightenment period in Europe when scholars and academeans impose rational principles upon the human phenomena that is religion. On one hand, it provided an entirely new avenue for theological inquiry. On the other, it created a lot of faith crises for many laymen.

Henotheism – A term first coined by Max Muller, this concept describes the worship of a single God, while simultaneously acknowledging the potential, even probable, existence of other gods. Thus, it is a halfway point between agnosticism, polytheism, and monotheism. The idea implies that God or gods have specific domains, such as those found within Greek/Roman mythology. Under this view point, the God of the Abrahamic traditions could be seen as Zeus. The Abrahamic God is thus the king of all other deities but there are other gods who have more power or knowledge than God in very specific areas such as death or agriculture or whatever have you.

Incommensurability – Two values or objects or events or propositions are believed to be incommensurate if they cannot be properly compared in importance or composition on a single scale or framework or paradigm. For example, which is better: food or love? Some would say that both are essential to survival or even happiness, but in reality they are not comparable. Love is a feeling while food is an object. We can write fancy poems and works of literature trying to successfully compare the two, but it will ultimately be for naught.

NOTE: I am not a huge comic book fan. I do not read them with any kind of passion or zeal. I merely gave this scenario as an example to illustrate a philosophical concept.

A more contemporary example would be Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson in their respective roles as The Joker. Some, such as myself, would love to argue that Ledger captured the true essence of this psychotic villain and that Nicholson is merely a cheap rip off. But this would be false and unfair to say. Nicholson’s Joker was not meant to be as dark as Ledger’s and therefore, in my opinion, was not as appealing to the audience. Ledger’s Joker was more captivating and actually made some cheer for the bad guy. Nicholson’s, on the other hand, simply did not. But regardless of that, Nolan went a different path than Burton. They had different ideas, desires, and motivations. It’s not legitimate to compare the two. They are incommensurate.

Lex Talionis – This concept is more commonly known as “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” This concept prescribes equality between crime and the punishment that follows. Yet many people do not realize this because we are so familiar with and inclined towards the Golden Rule. Yet if we look at lex talionis, we ought to note that this law prevents excessive punishment. It doesn’t permit or encourage the slaughtering of an entire community just because of some minor offense. And until the concept of the Golden Rule had developed, this system prevented mass chaos and destruction. So while it may be obsolete now, this has not always been the case and we should think twice before knocking it as primitive or beneath us.

 

What are some interesting or weird or practical philosophical concepts/systems to you?

Suggestions for Medical Testing on Human Subjects

Dr. Frankenstein Will See You Now: Reconsidering the Ethical Implications of Medical Research Involving Human Test Subjects

Introduction:

The topic of medical research on human subjects often invokes conflicted feelings about its ethical merits and, consequently, creates a social and ethical controversy. The thought of human test subjects conjure up images of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, a perversion of scientific curiosity that wreaks havoc on society at large. Or, perhaps more concretely, other images readily appear such as the depraved experimentation upon numerous Jews by Nazi doctors during the Second World War.

These moral atrocities, real or imagined, create significant fear and anxiety that medical research involving human subjects can be manipulated under a false pretense of advancing scientific and medical knowledge. This is apparent from the presence of the Declaration of Helsinki which previously stated that placebo controls were not to be used in clinical research involving human volunteers. Without the proper safeguards to prevent the possibility of abuse at the hands of physicians, human participants can be exploited or even inadvertently killed during the knowledge gathering process. As a result, some ethicists and physicians such as Freedman, Glass, and Weijer, among many others, condemn the use of randomized controlled trials involving placebos on human subjects as absolutely impermissible (Miller and Brody, 4).

Having briefly explored the problem of human test subjects in clinical research involving placebo controls, the rest of this paper will consist of three sections. First, I will explore and summarize the arguments advanced by critics of randomized controlled trials involving placebos used on human participants. Next, I will explore and summarize the rebuttals offered by proponents. Finally, I will offer my own combination of observations, suggestions, and arguments in favor of defending, but also enhancing, clinical research that involves human subjects.

Critiques of clinical research involving placebo controls on human subjects:

Critics of randomized controlled trials involving human subjects often advance two, interrelated arguments against the former’s use on both ethical and epistemic grounds. The ethical argument focuses on the physician’s obligations in relation to the patients whom he or she is investigating. The epistemic argument focuses on the epistemic conditions or prerequisites necessary in order to conduct medical research.

The first argument put forth by opponents of clinical research involving placebo controls on human subjects states that the use of placebo-controlled trials violates the physician’s therapeutic obligation to provide optimal care to patients. According to this obligation, physicians are expected to provide care that satisfies professional standards. The justification for this claim is that patients who enroll in randomized controlled trials are often, if not always, seeking treatment for their medical conditions. Yet randomized controlled trials in which placebos are used as controls are not measuring the efficacy of “new, promising treatments” against a “standard treatment” but are using a placebo which is “known to be inferior to [the] standard treatment” (Miller and Brody, 4). As a result, the patient is not receiving any substantial, or even real, treatment and the physician fails to honour his therapeutic obligation to put his patient and his patient’s best interests first and foremost.

The next argument utilized by critics states that randomized controlled trials, involving the testing of new treatments against placebos when proven effective ones already exist, constitute a violation of the Principle of Clinical Equipoise. According to critics such as Benjamin Freedman, this principle declares that the merits of medical research ought to be or are derived from circumstances in which either experts in the field are uncertain or are in a state of disagreement (Miller and Brody, 4). An assumption underlying this second argument is that the time, effort, and resources that are devoted to research on an already understood topic are being wasted. Since medical resources are finite and depletable, the amount of waste ought to be minimized. Instead, the time, effort, and resources could be better or more efficiently spent exploring health conditions which are either not understood at all (such as certain genetic diseases) or which are so prevalent and harmful as to warrant the immediate and sustained attention of physician-investigators (such as AIDS or cancer).

Underlying both the Principle of Clinical Equipoise as well as the physician’s therapeutic obligation is the Principle of Therapeutic Beneficence. The latter holds that physicians must promote what is best for the patient’s medical interests by providing a certain level of care and by appealing to a cost-benefit analysis when determining the whether or not a certain treatment ought to be utilized. However, the cost-benefit analysis of experimental treatments or drugs is difficult, if not impossible, to complete since the risks are not yet known (Miller, 113). Thus, the patient is not only receiving a placebo that is inferior to the standard available treatment, but also the patient cannot be absolutely or completely protected from risk of being harmed during the randomized controlled trial.

From these two main arguments, critics conclude that randomized controlled trials involving human subjects with placebos as controls are not ethically permissible. They are guilty of being unnecessary in that a treatment or drug already exists, being harmful in that they can bring about adverse consequences to their patients unknowingly and unnecessarily, or being unethical in that they violate significant obligations each physician has to his or her patients.

Defenses of clinical research involving placebo controls on human subjects:

However, proponents of clinical research state that the arguments that critics such as Freedman raise against the ethics of clinical research are misguided. As Franklin Miller points out, the ethical paradigms for clinical treatment and clinical research are different on grounds of purpose and methodology and must be treated as such. Whenever these paradigms are misunderstood, ethical confusion and conflict abound (Miller, 111).

One main difference is the purpose for each. Clinical practice aims to provide optimal therapeutic care to individual patients in which the potential risks a patient may face are justified by the potential medical benefits he or she stands to gain. As a result, clinical practice is properly structured by the Principle of Therapeutic Beneficence and the Principle of Therapeutic Nonmaleficence (Miller, 112). In contrast, clinical research focuses on groups of patients more generally with the ultimate goal of answering contemporary scientific questions in order to generate more generalizable knowledge. The hope is that this newfound knowledge will help raise the overall quality of care that physicians are able to provide to their patients in the long term (Miller, 112). Thus, the justification for risk taking is not the reduction or elimination of harm to the patient-subject, but the potential knowledge to be gained from the results of the research process.

Another difference is the methodology utilized for each. Clinical practice, as a consequence of being therapeutic in nature, involves offering patients the best available treatment in order to help ameliorate their particular condition (Miller and Brody, 4). That is to say, it is customized and extremely personal. Clinical research, on the other hand, at least in the form of randomized controlled trials, involves treatments being “selected by chance, not an individualized assessment of what is best for a particular patient” (Miller, 112). Often times the experiments are double blind, meaning that not even the physician-investigator conducting the research is aware of who has been given which treatment.

Failure to recognize these crucial dissimilarities results in ethical conflict and confusion. Moreover, Miller argues, it completely cripples the use of clinical research. Since the Principles of Therapeutic Beneficence and Nonmaleficence seem to be absolute obligations a physician has to his or her patients, clinical research cannot ever be justified, even on a case by case basis, when the former are in play. Thus, Miller concludes, the ethical obligations of clinical practice cannot be applied properly to clinical research since it creates a situation of incoherence in which there is no possibility of conducting clinical research on human participants (Miller and Brody, 4; Miller, 111).

Rather than applying absolutely the Principles of Beneficence and Nonmaleficence, Miller elsewhere asserts that there are certain criteria which must be met in order for a randomized controlled trial involving human participants to be considered ethical (Miller and Brody, 5). For one, human subjects ought to be voluntarily participating in whatever randomized controlled trial is being conducted. No subject should be coerced or forced into participating in these clinical trials for any reason and the subject should be allowed to cease their participation in the randomized controlled trial at any point in time.

Similarly, subjects ought to be informed that the treatment or drugs they may receive are not guaranteed to be effective in comparison to other, known alternatives and they may have unknown yet detrimental side effects. These are the risks that the subjects will be undertaking and they must be aware of the fact that these treatments are for general epistemic purposes, not actual/individual medical treatment.

Finally, risks resulting from the design of the experiment ought to be minimized so as to decrease the likelihood of any moderate to excessively harmful results to or experiences by the human subject. Miller identifies four such criteria. First, the investigator must identify the risks posed to subjects. Next, he or she must determine whether or not the risks have been minimized. Third, the investigator must judge whether or not the risks falls below an acceptable threshold. Finally, he or she must assess whether or not the risks are justified by the potential benefits of the knowledge to be gained from the research (Miller, 113). This relative, rather than absolute, application allows for more flexibility while still providing safeguards for those human participants involved in the clinical research.

Analysis:

To begin with my view, I agree with Miller et al. that the moral principles which govern clinical practice should not be confused with the moral principles which should govern clinical research. While the Principles of Nonmaleficence, Clinical Equipoise, and Beneficence ought to be strictly observed within the context of clinical practice, the differences in purposes, methodology, and costs of clinical practice and clinical research make it clear that they are not the same and should not be treated as such. But I also think, sympathetically with Freedman et al. that there is still room for improvement. As a result, I argue for a kind of middle ground. 

My only objection to the Principle of Clinical Equipoise, in general, is that the terms “scientific” and “clinical” that denote the specific kind of merits for which physician-investigators look when justifying clinical research is too narrow. At least one other category, socio-economic, should be added to the principle. A relatively realistic hypothetical can provide an instance in which the Principle of Equipoise is actually detrimental to patients and society as a whole and should thus be applied on a case by case basis, rather than absolutely.

Imagine a situation in which there is but one prescription drug for a certain medical condition. Regarding this medical condition, it is extremely common, painful though not terminal, and is found among the entire population of a particular nation. Regarding the prescription drug used to combat this medical condition, it has taken years of research by a team of pharmacists to develop, has cost billions of dollars, and, because of the complex and complicated process by which the drug is produced, is only affordable for those patients who have superior health care coverage. Furthermore, the majority of the population suffers from living in conditions of abject poverty and, as a result, does not have access to the superior health care coverage necessary to afford the prescription drug. Many people suffer unnecessarily and the detrimental effects for the people, as well as the society in which they live, multiply exponentially over time. 

Moreover, the use and efficacy of this prescription drug to treat that medical condition has been thoroughly praised and documented throughout the contemporary medical literature. In addition, testing a new prescription drug against the original would constitute an impermissible waste of the latter. The overall cost of conducting such competitive research between the two could not be justified from an economic perspective.

Here is a situation which, arguably, would violate the Principle of Equipoise if medical research was conducted to test another prescription drug. Since the original prescription drug has been shown to be extremely effective and there is little to no disagreement among experts in the field of medicine, there seems to be no reason for more research to take place. But perhaps there is another type of merit in such medical research, aside from being either scientific or clinical. Perhaps by conducting such research, the investigators can discern whether a newly released prescription drug similar in chemical nature to the original but with the same physiological effects can be utilized, especially if this alternative is produced through a less expensive process, thereby reducing the price of and increasing the availability of the drug for those poorer people who did not have the means to pay for it but who needed it nonetheless. As a result, the Principle of Equipoise seems to be a relative, rather than an absolute, concept whose application depends on the greater context in which it is set. Moreover, there are other grounds, besides scientific or clinical merit, such as social or socio-economic ones that can justify the use of human test subjects in randomized controlled trials.

Yet the assumption upon which the Principle of Clinical Equipoise is based, that continued research on an already understood topic or proven treatment or medicine is wasteful or unnecessary, is dubious. If the study of biology, and specifically epidemiology, has shown us anything, it is that the theory of evolution warns us that newer, less understood organisms are continually appearing on life’s horizon. Take, for example, certain detrimental bacteria. There have been several documented cases in which bacteria have become completely resistant to antibiotic treatments (FDA). Some of these cases have developed rather rapidly (Phys Org). As a result, it would seem foolhardy to assert that just because there is one or two or even three treatment options for a particular medical condition, that there needs to be no further research. Those treatment options could, potentially, become obsolete or ineffective in a short matter of time (FDA). Thus, continual research into a topic is almost always justified, regardless of the availability of treatment.

Next, there is a semantic peculiarity that continues to aggravate the debate. The relevant part of this problem comes from the terminology of “physician-investigators” and “patient-subjects” (Miller, 111). While it is more truthful to state that the physicians who conduct medical research are both physicians and investigators, this seems to create some confusion about the role he or she is expected to play within the context of randomized controlled trials. Similarly, the term “patient-subject” implies that the person who has volunteered for a particular randomized controlled trial expects to or should benefit from some sort of treatment from the physician-investigator in question.

But because the ultimate goal of randomized controlled trials is not to provide treatment to patients, but to generate and refine contemporary medical knowledge, the term “physician” and the labeling of human volunteers as “patients” should be entirely eliminated. Those investigators who engage in randomized controlled trials, for at least as long as the trials are being conducted, should not be considered doctors or physicians since they are, first and foremost, researchers and scientists. Similarly, those subjects who engage in the same should not be considered patients since they are, for at least as long as the trials are being conducted, first and foremost, volunteers and/or test subjects. Since the roles are different, the titles or terms utilized should be too. This, in turn, will help eliminate further confusion and encourage the acceptance of Miller et al.’s ethical paradigm for clinical research.

Finally, if physicians are worried about the potentially unjustifiable risks to benefits ratio within clinical research, one possible solution is to offer human participants monetary compensation for their time and (potential) suffering, if no positive consequences result from the experimental treatment. Put another way, if a subject’s health does not improve after receiving treatment during clinical research or, conversely, if a subject is moderately to greatly harmed from receiving treatment, then a subject should be awarded monetary compensation from the responsible party (parties). Two main criteria would determine the warrant and amount for such compensation: pain and time.

For one, subjects should be compensated for the amount of time for which they volunteer. Depending on the duration of the clinical research in question, these subjects could miss work, family engagements, jury duty, and, perhaps, actual medical appointments. As a result, if the experimental treatment they receive does not ameliorate their condition, they should be compensated monetarily since they have given up time that they could have used on something else, for results that never materialized.

Next, subjects should be compensated for the pain they suffer as a result of the experiment’s design in clinical research. The measurement of this pain would include quantitative, qualitative, and temporal dimensions. Quantitatively, pain would be measured by the number of body parts or areas of the body in which pain occurred. For example, if a subject suffered from pain in his heart, toes, and shoulder, as opposed to just his shoulder, he would receive more monetary compensation. Qualitatively, pain would be measured by location; the more vital the body part, the higher the compensation. For example, a bruised shin that resulted from clinical research would not receive as much compensation as a collapsed lung. In addition, pain would be measured by intensity; the stronger or sharper the pain, the higher the compensation. Temporally, pain would be measured by its duration; the longer the pain persists, the higher the compensation.

So long as the previously enumerated conditions for clinical research, as listed by Miller et al., are met and so long as the subject is informed about and consents to the process (reserving the right to stop participating at any time), that provides sufficient basis for utilizing the compensation system. This system would not only offset the risks to benefits ratio, it would also allow further exploration via clinical research. Potentially controversial treatments and health conditions could be carefully monitored yet explored nonetheless, greatly expanding the knowledge base of medicine and improving medical care universally.

A Critique of the Argument from Desire

Introduction:

The Argument from Desire is an often overlooked theistic argument that is both logically and emotionally appealing. As Christian apologist Norman Geisler puts it, “it has a certain existential force.”1 The Argument from Desire interprets seemingly universal desires and experiences of human beings, including those who passionately declare themselves to be atheists or agnostics, as evidence that points to the existence of Heaven specifically, but which is entailed by the existence of the Christian God more generally.

Though originally championed by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, Pilgrim’s Regress, and The Problem of Pain2, there have been numerous forms of the argument advanced in contemporary times. Some scholars, such as Norman Geisler and Art Lindsley3, argue that the desire is one for immortality. Others state that it is a desire for everlasting joy, as Lewis himself did. Still others, such as Peter Kreeft, argue that this universal yearning is a desire for an intimate and lasting relationship with God, which likely entails the other two desires. As a result, this paper will focus mostly on the version of the Argument from Desire put forth by Christian apologist Peter Kreeft.4

In the remainder of this paper, I will explore Kreeft’s argument in detail, providing criticisms where applicable. Yet it must be noted that in this paper I will be addressing the desire as though it were specifically a desire for immortality. However, some of these criticisms can equally apply to the desire as though it were for everlasting joy or an intimate relationship with God. 

The Argument from Desire:

The Argument from Desire, as advanced by Kreeft, laid out in its deductive form, is as follows:

Premise 1: Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.

Premise 2: Yet there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on Earth, and no creature can satisfy.

Conclusion: Therefore, there must exist something more than time, Earth, and creatures which can satisfy this desire. (This something is what many people call “God” and “life with God forever.”)

Regarding the first premise, there is a sharp distinction to be drawn between two types of human desires. Kreeft labels these as natural or artificial and innate or externally conditioned desires. Natural desires include hunger, sexual arousal, thirst, rest, knowledge, beauty, companionship and the like. Artificial desires, in contrast, include wielding absolute political authority over a particular country, being able to read the minds of others, owning the best DVD collection of all time, and living freely in the land of Narnia. 

To further demarcate between these types of desires, Kreeft advances three criteria. The first criterion is based on the availability and recognition of terms that describe states or conditions of deprivation for natural, as opposed to artificial, desires. The next criterion focuses on the origin of the desire itself. Finally, the last criterion utilized to discern between natural and artificial desires is the content of the desire. 

First, Kreeft notes that there are terms for states of deprivation for natural desires. For example, if a person is hungry but cannot satisfy that desire for an extended period of time, he or she can be said to be in a state of starvation. Yet there are no parallel terms identified for states of deprivation that result from the lack of an object that satisfies an artificial desire. Put another way, there is no state of “Narnialessness” that results from one’s inability to live freely in Narnia. The latter does not invoke subjective feelings or thoughts of a similar quality or quantity that the former does. 

Next, Kreeft notes that the origin of natural desires is within a person and is inherent to human nature. Hunger, thirst, sexual arousal, and the like all seem to be internal phenomena, physiological reactions to the changing conditions of a person’s body in relation to an external environment or entity. These desires can be influenced by external factors such as climate, weather, and population, but they are ultimately determined within a person’s physical body. 

Third, natural desires, Kreeft contends, are universal because they do not seem to vary from human being to human being. Artificial desires, in comparison, are the products of cultural and social pressures and influences. They can be cultivated through numerous mediums such as books, public figures, video games, celebrities, music, TV shows, movies, subliminal advertisements on the radio, and more. As a result, these artificial desires can be and often are widely divergent from one individual to the next. 

Regarding the second premise, one must assess the phrase “nothing in time, nothing on Earth, and no creature can satisfy.” We can reasonably conclude that this phrase signifies an object which does not have spatial-temporal dimensions, that, if it is found in the universe, it is not found on Earth, and that it cannot be satisfied by interactions with any living organism (human, animal, alien, etc.). Thus, it is more favorable and sympathetic to read “nothing on Earth” as meaning “nothing in the universe” so as to form a coherent whole with the other two expressions within Kreeft’s syllogism.

Finally, the second part of Kreeft’s conclusion is in parentheses because he does not actually state it as a definite conclusion. This is merely the direction in which he plans to advance the argument. Though this argument, on its own, does not firmly establish the existence of God or Heaven, it can be combined with other theistic arguments, such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument or the Argument from Morality, to strengthen Kreeft’s overall case.

Objections to the Argument from Desire: 

While I acknowledge that the Argument from Desire does seem intuitively plausible, as well as inductively strong, there are still several objections which can be raised against it, objections that I believe to be fatal for the argument on the whole. As a result, I assert two key criticisms against the Argument from Desire: (1) Kreeft’s argument involves an inappropriate and misguided conclusion that violates Ockham’s Razor and (2) Kreeft’s label of the desire for immortality as “innate” and “natural” is incorrect. 

Kreeft’s particularly selective terminology disguises the inappropriateness of the argument’s conclusion. In the first premise of his syllogism, Kreeft employs terms such as “natural” and “innate” rather than “physical” to avoid being trapped in a strictly naturalistic paradigm, though the terms “natural” and “innate” smack heavily of biological and physiological connotations. Moreover, one must note that Kreeft uses the term “real” when describing the object that satisfies this desire rather than “tangible” or “concrete.” The use of “real” allows much metaphysical content to be smuggled in by permitting the possibility of the immaterial and otherworldly objects or processes to satisfy the desire in question (the human soul, Heaven, Hell, God, demons, angels, etc.). Clearly, “real” does not denote the same types of objects or processes that words like “tangible” and “concrete” do. 

Yet the inference, at its most basic level, is that all so-defined natural desires have an object or process by which those desires are sufficiently satisfied. This is why the argument seems so intuitively plausible. We are able to reflect on certain natural desires and quickly visualize the objects or processes that satisfy them sufficiently. The same cannot be said about the desire for immortality. But when we break this inductive reasoning down further, it no longer seems as plausible. 

To better understand why this inference is misleading, one must return to the language of type-token distinctions. To illustrate the type-token distinction, an example is in order. A car is a type of vehicle. A truck is another type of vehicle. A boat is a further type of vehicle. Specific models of cars, trucks, and boats, serve as tokens of those types. A Nissan, a Ford, and a Skeeter are all tokens of their respective types.

Note that these previously listed natural desires are of a certain type; this type consists of desires which are satisfied by objects or processes that are physical in nature, can/do involve other creatures, and that can be/are attainable on Earth. The satisfaction for things such as hunger, thirst, sexual arousal, and friendship is derived from physical objects or processes such as food, water, sexual activity, and social interaction. But this desire for immortality is not of the same type as those previously listed. It constitutes a new type of desire, a desire which is not satisfied by objects or processes that are physical in nature, can involve other creatures, and that are attainable on Earth, per Kreeft’s second premise. 

Here is where the argument falters. In keeping with an inference to the best explanation, it would be more appropriate to say that even this mysterious and elusive desire can be satisfied by a physical object or process, even if that physical object or process has not yet been discovered or created, rather than to posit an entirely new type of object or process of satisfaction. For example, if the desire is one for immortality, groundbreaking research in biotechnological and nanotechnological fields may discover the processes and/or create the materials necessary for human life to be sustained indefinitely. While such research is still in its infancy and facing a variety of theoretical and practical constraints,5 there is great potential for the development of technological devices that can be utilized by human beings to, perhaps, escape death and achieve immortality. 

Nanotechnology could provide minuscule nanobots, quantum-sized robots, that live within a person’s body and are intelligent enough to destroy harmful viruses and bacteria that cause a slew of medical conditions ranging from the common cold to AIDS. They can also help with dangerous or complicated surgeries as well as help to repair damaged cells that inevitably occur as a product of the aging process. As a result, many common causes of or contributions to death become impotent.

Biotechnology could provide human beings with artificial organs that work harder, more efficiently, and much longer than their organic counterparts. Life spans could be extended infinitely also through the possibility of cloning, something similar to the plot line of The Island in which clones are harvested for their organs, allowing their original counterparts to continue living for an extremely long time. Thus, if biotechnology and/or nanotechnology are able to successfully combat human mortality, it seems that Kreeft’s second premise is only a finite period of time away from being proven false.

Moreover, the Argument from Desire violates Ockham’s Razor. Ockham’s Razor, in one of its more modern reformulations, states that when given two equally sufficient explanations for a certain phenomenon, the simpler explanation is to be preferred.6 But as we noted above, the desire for immortality introduces an entirely new type of natural desire, one which is not satisfiable by any physical objects or processes. As a result, this is where the metaphysical content that Kreeft bootlegged into the argument harms his argument. In comparison, a naturalistic conclusion would be more appropriate in this situation. There is no need to posit entirely new entities such as God and Heaven when abstractions such as chance and time suffice.

Next, according to Kreeft, this desire for immortality is “natural” and “innate” because it arises from within a person and does not diverge from one individual to another. To the contrary, I assert that the desire for immortality is neither natural nor innate. It is my view that the desire for immortality occurs in a person’s life only after he or she come to understand the consequences of death, that the desire is entirely dependent upon the knowledge of death. Yet if this desire depends upon certain concrete interactions or experiences such as understanding death, then it cannot be considered a natural desire since it did not arise from within a person in the same way that hunger or sexual arousal or thirst does. And if it is possible that a single person does not experience this desire for immortality, then Kreeft’s assertion that it is an innate desire is incorrect. Instead, the desire for immortality is an artificial or externally conditioned desire. 

Common experience tells us that after a human being encounters death, whether directly or indirectly, he or she inevitably reflects upon the experience. It does not matter if a person witnesses the death of another living organism concretely, say through an instance of murder or the natural death of an elderly relative, or merely discusses the idea more abstractly as in a philosophical classroom setting; knowledge of death as a concept leads to several psychological changes in a person. One such psychological change involves a shocking and likely horrifying realization: death is ultimately inevitable for all living organisms. There will come a time when a person completely ceases to exist in a broad sense of the term. There will be no more conversations with friends, no more family gatherings, no more laughter, no more summer vacations, nothing. A person will no longer be able to influence and be influenced by his or her surroundings and this state or condition of non-existence will last much longer than the time for which he or she was alive. The striking reality that no one can avoid or escape death, but only postpone it for varying amounts of time, can be difficult to accept. We find similar testimonies for this kind of unease and dread in philosophical literature throughout human history, especially in the nihilism of Nietzsche and the existentialism of Sartre and Camus. 

To put everything into a causal chain, or at least into chronological order, after a person gains an understanding of death, the accompanying period of self-reflection leads to the realization that death is inevitable and indiscriminate, that no human being is ultimately in control of his or her biological/temporal fate. This perception of a lack of control combined with the uncertainty of what actually occurs after death leads to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness which constitute the fear and anxiety experienced after the event. This fear of death, in turn, manifests itself in a person as a desire to be immortal, to avoid or escape death and its unknown, or at least largely misunderstood, consequences. Yet those who had never witnessed the death of another creature or had never been introduced to the concept of death through some other manner would likely not have this desire for immortality.

Conclusion:

As previously stated, the Argument from Desire is by no means the strongest of theistic arguments. There are others which make a much more forceful case for the existence of God. However, as Christian apologist Dr. William Lane Craig notes, each argument and piece of evidence for God’s existence builds upon the last so that it forms a kind of chain mail defense for theism.7 So while no single argument may be absolutely effective, when taken together, these arguments can provide powerful justification for theistic belief. Conversely, dismantling each piece of chain mail in that armor can provide powerful support for atheistic or agnostic or even deistic belief. Thus, via negativa, the benefit of this objection to the Argument from Desire is further justification for non-religious belief systems.

 

Footnotes:

1 Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999), 282.

2 Wise, http://www.lastseminary.com/argument-from-desire/

7 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, (Crossway, 2008), chap. 1.

Tinker v. Des Moines ISD – SCOTUS Legal Case Study

Within the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District Supreme Court case, the two parties were in disagreement about the guarantees of the First and Fourteenth Amendments; specifically, whether or not the school district could restrict the freedom of speech/expression of the students and, if so, on what grounds. The school district argued that their authorities proscribed the students’ freedom of expression in this particular case so as to prevent any potentially violent or disruptive reactions as a result of the inherently controversial topic of criticizing the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. The school district claimed that it was looking out for the safety of the students as well as trying to prevent anything that would interrupt the proper and normal functioning of the school. Conversely, the students’ argued that the proscription of their expression and the punishment that they sustained as a result was unconstitutional because it violated the protections guaranteed to them by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The Supreme Court’s majority in this case held three key points. In the first, the majority stated that the students’ expression was symbolic and therefore similar to “pure speech” which is undoubtedly protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution (505-506). Furthermore, the students did not cause a disruption, nor did they impinge upon the rights of the other students at the school. The majority’s second point stated that First Amendment rights belong to teachers and students and could not be arbitrarily curtailed despite the special legal characteristics of public schools (506). That is to say, the school officials cannot abridge the Constitutional rights of either group without sufficient warrant to do so. Finally, the majority declared, in accordance with a previous ruling, that without appropriate evidence that the rule proscribing expression is necessary to avoid any great disturbances at the school, it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and is unconstitutional (508-509).

The majority in this case put forth several arguments as to why the actions taken by the school district were unconstitutional and why they were to be reversed and remanded. Among the issues discussed were school officials’ authority with regards to campus procedures and rules, the necessary qualifications for speech or expression to be proscribable, and the dangers of viewpoint discrimination.

According to the majority, the only grounds for censoring the students’ expression, according to Burnside v. Byars, would be if it “materially and substantially interfere[d] with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school” (509). The school district argued that a former student who had enlisted in the army had been killed in Vietnam and that some of his friends still attended high schools within the district. The school officials feared that the situation “might evolve into something which would be difficult to control” (footnote 3). However, the majority denied that such a broad fear validated the school district’s actions. The majority’s opinion noted that “undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the freedom of expression” (508). The majority argued that there is a risk that any word, form of expression, or discussion of a controversial topic could create a sense or feeling of fear within another person or group of people (508). Yet the fear of certain events must be reasonably likely to obtain, otherwise there is the danger of inappropriately proscribing speech without sufficient warrant for doing so; the majority found that no such disturbances occurred. The majority noted that the students’ expression was “silent” and “passive” rather than aggressive or disruptive (508). The students did not actively aim to interrupt other students’ learning or to force their anti-war opinions upon others. Their expression was quiet and civilized, leading to its demarcation as “pure speech” (506). Though the students’ faced some critical remarks from other students outside of the classroom, “there were no threats or acts of violence on school premises” (508) Therefore, the necessary conditions for the legitimate proscribing of the students’ expression were not met.

Next, the majority recognized that the school district’s motivation was not to prevent any potential disruptions, as it had previously claimed, but to avoid a controversial topic (509-510). As such, the school district was guilty of viewpoint discrimination. The testimony provided by school officials at the original trial stated that the school district was purposefully opposed to “the principle of the demonstration” rather than the potential disruption it could have caused, claiming that “schools [were] no place for demonstrations” (footnote 3). Yet the majority claimed, on the contrary, that there was no more appropriate place for discussing diverse and controversial ideas, especially political ones, than at school. Citing Justice Brennan in Keyishian v. Board of Regents, the majority held that “the classroom is peculiarly the marketplace of ideas” and that America’s future depended on critical thinkers who explored all kinds of ideas, rather than merely social approved ones (511-512).

Finally, the majority’s decision dealt with the issue of school officials’ authority. The majority stated that neither teachers nor students “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate” (506). Citing cases Meyer v. Nebraska and Bartels v. Iowa, the majority argued that even though schools have special legal characteristics and that school officials have the ability to ensure proper conduct within the schools, “[they] do not possess absolute authority over their students” (511). The majority denied that Constitutional rights only exist in certain geographic locations, such as outside of school premises, stating that such a practice reduces the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech and expression so that “it exists in principle, but not in fact” (513).

Though the Supreme Court justices did not explicitly say so, their ruling sought to follow some principles of the rule of law. Regarding rule number one, if we simply change “government” to “school,” we can see that the court’s decision mirrors the rule. The majority sought to prevent the school officials from doing as they pleased, in this case preventing freedom of expression on certain unpopular topics. Similarly, the majority enforced sections (e) and (g) of rule number three which state “[the law] must be applied in an impartial manner that is consistent with [its] meaning” and “[the law] must be enacted in accordance with preexisting rules” (Altman 3-5). The school district did not apply or enforce the law in an impartial manner; the school district was also guilty of practicing viewpoint discrimination which violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.

In addition, the Supreme Court justices also appealed to a version of Mill’s Harm Principle. Broadly stated, the Harm Principle declares that a person ought to be allowed whatever he pleases, insofar as his actions do not infringe upon the rights of or cause injury to others (Lacewing). Accordingly, the majority held that the students’ expression did not infringe upon the rights of others, nor did it cause injury to anyone. The students did not force others within the school to change their opinions nor were they belligerent in their expression. They merely brandished an armband representing their opinion, in this case criticism, of the United States’ military involvement within Vietnam. As a result, the school district inappropriately proscribed the expression.

Supreme Court Case Syllabus and Briefing:

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0393_0503_ZS.html

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0393_0503_ZO.html

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