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Ethics in Crisis. Tutor. Howard Taylor. Tutor : Howard Taylor. Chaplain - Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. Also at Heriot-Watt lectures in : ` Moral & Social Philosophy’ `Philosophy of Science and Religion’ .

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Ethics in Crisis.


Howard Taylor.

tutor howard taylor
Tutor: Howard Taylor.

Chaplain - Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.

Also at Heriot-Watt lectures in:

`Moral & Social Philosophy’

`Philosophy of Science and Religion’.

Visiting lecturer `International Christian College’. (Two modules - alternate years).

Former convenor: Church of Scotland Apologetics Committee.


Church of Scotland Parish Minister:

St. David’s Knightswood Glasgow - 12 years.

Innellan, Toward, and Inverchaolain Churches - 5 years.

Worked in Malawi, Africa - 16 years.

  • Missionary: Minister, Theology lecturer, African Language teacher.
  • Maths and Physics lecturer: University of Malawi.

Degrees from: Nottingham, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Author of several small books/booklets.

Married with three grown up sons and two grandsons and two granddaughters.

main subjects for ethics in crisis
Main Subjects for Ethics in Crisis.
  • Throughout there will be references to Christian thinking in the West including consideration of some Biblical passages.
  • Views of the human person that have shaped or are shaping our modern Western world, including:
    • Humanism, Human Rights, Human Bioethics, Genetics and human behaviour, Modernism, and Post Modernism,
  • How to overcome the meaningless of the world by the will to power.
    • Nietzche.
Before we move on we consider some words of Bertrand Russell in his Introduction to his History of Western Philosophy.

All definite knowledge belongs to science; all dogma as to what surpasses definite knowledge belongs to theology. But between theology and science there is a No Man's Land, .. this No Man's Land is philosophy. Almost all the questions of most interest to speculative minds are such as science cannot answer, and the confident answers of theologians no longer seem convincing.…(The questions are:) Is the world divided into mind and matter, and, if so what is mind and what is matter?Is mind subject to matter, or is it possessed of independent powers?Has the universe any unity or purpose? Is it evolving towards some goal?Are there really laws of nature, or do we believe in them only because of our innate love of order?Is man what he seems to the astronomer, a tiny lump of impure carbon and water impotently crawling on a small unimportant planet? Or is he what he appears to Hamlet? Is he perhaps both at once?Is there a way of living that is noble and another that is base, or are all ways of living merely futile?If there is a way of living that is noble. In what does it consist, and how shall we achieve it?Must the good be eternal in order to deserve to be valued, or is it worth seeking even if the universe is inexorably moving towards death? …To such questions no answer can be found in the laboratory. …. The studying of these questions, if not the answering of them, is the business of philosophy.


A further look at Bertrand Russell’s questions that he says cannot be answered from science. (1) Questions in blue raise fundamental mysteries.

  • Is the world divided into mind and matter, or are mind and physical brain identical?
    • If the mind is not merely physical matter, what is it?
    • And what is physical matter? (Quantum mechanics and String theory expose the inherent mystery)
  • Science examines the rational structure of matter.What is the source of matter’s rational structure?
    • Electrons, for example, relate to one another and other entities in particular ways and not in other ways. (That is to say they behave according to ‘laws’ discoverable by science.)

But why are there ‘laws of nature’ in the first place?)

a further look at bertrand russell s questions that he says cannot be answered from science 2
A further look at Bertrand Russell’s questions that he says cannot be answered from science. (2)
  • Does nature have a purpose?
    • If there is a purpose, can this purpose be understood from within nature or does it imply a transcendent reality for which it exists?
  • Do good and evil exist as objective realities or are they just the product of the way we, as individuals or societies, have developed?For example:
    • Is cruelty to children evil in itself (intrinsically evil) or is it just that we don’t like it?
    • Are courage and kindness good in themselves (intrinsically good), or is it just that we like them?
Here is a statement attributed to Bertrand Russell:
  • "Whatever knowledge is attainable must be obtainable by scientific method. What science cannot discover mankind cannot know".
  • Think about that statement.
  • Why is it illegitimate to make such a statement?
  • Here is the answer:
  • The statement itself cannot be proved from science.
    • Therefore, if it is true we can't know that it is true!
    • In other words it refutes itself.
world views
World Views:
  • 1. Atheistic Materialism:
    • There is nothing spiritual - no god, spirit or human soul.
    • Impersonal matter/energy/physical laws (in one form or another) are the basis of all that exist - the whole story.
      • They are eternal
      • They have developed into the universe including all its life and human life and personal human minds.
    • In principle the human person, including his/her appreciation of beauty, right and wrong, could, in the future, be understood entirely by physics.
      • A complete understanding of the human person could, in future, come from a study of impersonal physical laws/matter/energy which make up his physical body/brain and environment. See quotation from
      • Francis Crick on next slide.

World Views: Atheistic Materialism continued.

Francis Crick: “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more that the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”(The Astonishing Hypothesis page 3)

world views10
World Views:

2. Deism:God is entirely transcendent - out there, not in here.

  • God created the universe with its physical laws and now leaves it to run its course.
  • There is no continuing relation between God and the physical universe.
  • God is not relevant to our physical lives.

3. Pantheism `God’ is immanent - in here, not out there.

  • There is no Creator God distinct from the universe.
  • `God’ is the spiritual dimension of the physical universe.
  • God is impersonal.
    • We tune into God rather than pray to Him in a personal way.
    • We may pray to spirits but not to God.
  • All things are sacred in their own right.
  • The physical/spiritual universe is eternal.
world views11
World Views:

4. Theism - God is both transcendent and immanent

  • He is distinct from the physical world but He iswith and `in’ all things.
  • He alone is eternal.
  • He created matter/energy/laws of physics.
  • He holds all things in being.
  • He is personal Mind.
  • Some believe that we may know Him personally.
world views12
World Views:

5. Christian Theism. As well as the theism already outlined:

  • God is love.
  • He does not remain distant from our sin and suffering.
  • He stoops to the human level, and bears sin, pain and death for us. (The Cross)
  • He lifts us up back to where we belong, forgiving us all our sin. (The resurrection)
  • Although this is seen in Jesus, it is a process that occurs throughout history - that is what the Bible is about.
  • Judgement, new Creation and eternal life are realities.
  • There our true destiny is fulfilled.
Before discussing Christian Ethics we briefly consider the difference between Subjectivist and Objectivist Ethics.
  • Objectivist:
    • There is something called goodness which is independent of us - out there in the world or revealed by God.
      • This action is good - means it conforms to that goodness.
      • This action is bad - means it is in opposition to that goodness.
Subjectivist Ethics.
    • There is no goodness independent of us.
    • Our idea of goodness comes from:
      • Our biology.
      • The results of evolution.
    • Each individual person OR each individual society is the criterion for deciding the difference between good and evil.

A major problem for Subjectivist Ethics:

    • How do you settle dispute about what is good?
    • There is nothing to appeal to.
  • In 1960, Bertrand Russell wrote:
  • 'I cannot see how to refute arguments for the subjectivity of moral values, but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don't like it.'

(Notes on Philosophy, January 1960, Philosophy, 35, 146-147.)

This problem is more graphically illustrated in the hypothetical example given in the next slide.

Hitler believed that only some human life is valuable.He ordered the killing of millions of people, believing humans of their race have no value at all.
  • He felt like it, believed it to be right, and so did many others.
  • Suppose he had won the war, brainwashed or killed those who disagreed with him,
      • so that the remaining human society came to believe that the genocide was right,
    • would that have made it right?

Or is there some objective goodness - independent of a person or society’s beliefs and feelings - that says it is wrong even if every person believes it to be right?

Are certain actions intrinsically right or wrong or are right and wrong merely matters of culture and public opinion?

Two problems for Objectivist Ethics.

1. How do you find out where that true goodness is?

    • There are religions beliefs about how and where God has told us what true goodness is.
      • Are there not many religions? So which religion?
      • However note:
        • Not all religions claim that God has shown us the difference between good and evil.
        • Those that do make that claim are closely related.

2. Even if we think God has given us commandments, how do we rank competing obligations? (Matthew Parris)

christian ethics
Christian Ethics.
  • Many people think Christian Ethics is a list of rules found in the Church or the Bible.
    • It is true there are commandments but that is not the basis of Christian Ethics.
    • True Goodness cannot be defined by lists of rules.
    • True goodness is deeply personal.
      • Personal relationships (e.g. friendship) cannot be defined by a list of rules about how we relate to one another.
      • Christian goodness means being `godly’ ie having the character of Christ in relationships with:
        • God, our fellow humans, and the natural world.
christian ethics19
Christian Ethics.
  • Character of God shown not in rules but in a Person (Jesus Christ).
  • In Christ God self-sacrificially suffers for our sins
    • giving us forgiveness so as to lift us up to where we belong eternally.
    • That is the meaning of `love’ and it sums up true goodness.
    • The cross of Jesus has a better effect on us than 10,000 rules and commandments.
    • By the grace of God we are called to love as He loves us.
christian ethics20
Christian Ethics.
  • That goodness of God shines through all of nature.
  • So we intuitively recognise there is something real called `goodness’
  • This is so even if we don’t know where it has come from.
  • However we often reject that goodness and so have a bad conscience and feel guilty.
  • The cross of Christ brings us forgiveness and new life.
  • In this imperfect world we still need guidance in the form of commandments.
is religion necessary for morality
Is Religion Necessary For Morality?
  • The question is not: `Do you have to be religious to be good or to have a sense of right and wrong?’
  • Nor is the question:Have religions done more good than harm or more harm than good?
  • Rather the question can be rephrased in these ways:
    • `If we say there is no God, or no spiritual reality beyond ourselves, can we understand what the basis should be for moral decision making?’
    • Is belief in God necessary for our understanding of why humans have a sense of right and wrong?
    • Read: ‘Culture in Crisis’ article on new Pope.
c s lewis s mere christianity a summary of the main points
C. S. Lewis’s Mere ChristianityA summary of the main points:
  • We have heard people quarrelling.
  • They say things like this:
    • How'd you like it if ….?
    • That's my seat I was in it first.
    • Give me a bit of your chocolate, I gave you some of mine.
    • Come on you promised.
The person who says these things is not just saying that he doesn't like the behaviour - rather he is appealing to a higher standard which he expects the other person to know about.
  • The other person seldom replies: `I don't believe in fairness, or kindness or keeping promises.' `I don't believe in standards of behaviour'.
  • He will try to say that there is some special reason why he did what he did.
      • There is another reason why he should have taken the seat,
      • Things were quite different when he was given the chocolate,
      • Something else has turned up to stop him keeping the promise.
Quarrelling shows that we try to demonstrate that the other person is in the wrong. He has offended against what is right.
  • So some say that everyone instinctively recognises there is a difference between right and wrong and does not need to be taught its basic principles such as fairness, honesty, kindness, courage etc.
    • (They do not mean that there are not some people who are completely oblivious to the difference - after all some people are colour blind and can’t tell green from blue.)
  • Others reply and ask: What about the differences between cultures?
    • However in no culture do people regard kindness as evil, or double crossing people who have been kind to one as good, or cowardice as good.
There have been, and are, moral differences between cultures - but the differences are not about whether kindness, fairness, generosity, honesty etc are good or evil, but
    • how these should be applied and
    • whether they should be applied to all or just to a privileged group.
two verses from the bible which say the same thing
Two Verses from the Bible which say the same thing:
  • Romans 2:14-15:
  • Indeed, when heathens, who do not have the law, (ie The 10 Commandments etc) do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.
where did this moral sense come from the moral imperative pressing upon humanity
Where did this moral sense come from? The Moral Imperative pressing upon humanity.
  • (1) Either it comes from physical world:
    • (a) Our sense of right and wrong is an instinct that has come from our biological make up or psychology - which are the results of random evolutionary processes.
    • (b) Our sense of right and wrong comes from social conventions we have learnt.
    • © A combination of (a) and (b)
  • (2) Or it comes from beyond the physical world
    • Spiritual world or God.
  • Even if (1) above is part of the story, can it be the whole story?
can either of the explanations from the physical world be right
Can either of the explanations from the physical world be right?
  • Consider the first.
    • Our psychology - result of random evolutionary processes - has led us to value kindness and selflessness..
      • But if the sense of goodness is just an instinct which is the result of `survival of fittest' then does it have any intrinsic value?
is morality only the instinct to preserve the species
Is morality only the instinct to preserve the species?
  • If we hear of someone in danger there will be two contradictory instincts:
    • Herd instinct to help him - preserve the species.
    • The instinct to avoid danger - preserve the species.
  • We will also feel inside us a third thing which tells us we ought to suppress one instinct and encourage the other.
  • There are appropriate times for each instinct.
  • Morality tells us that at this time, such and such an instinct should be encouraged.
  • Therefore morality is not itself just a physical instinct.
Returning to C. S. Lewis’s argument:
  • Where does our moral sense come from?
    • Not as we have seen from our biology.

Has it come from social conventions we have learnt?

  • Do we ever think that one social convention is better than another? (One society may believe in slavery another not.)
  • Do we think we have progressed - ie got better in our moral customs?
  • If we do, then we are implicitly acknowledging another greater Real Morality by which we judge one morality or social convention against another.
  • Universal agreement that fairness, honesty, kindness etc are good and not evil, cannot be a mere world wide social convention because different cultures believed them to be good before they had met one another.
Suppose two of us had an idea of what New York was like.
  • Your idea might be truer than mine because there is a real place called New York by which we can compare our ideas.
  • But if we simply meant `the town I am imagining in my head' (there being no real New York) then one person's idea would be no more correct than the other person’s ideas.
  • If there were no such thing as Real Morality - but just what evolution made people think, or just what different cultures had developed themselves - there would be no meaning to the statement that Nazi morality is inferior to any other morality
A different form of the argument that there must be more to morality than can be explained from the physical world.

Can one derive an `ought' from an `is'?

  • Science can tell us what is the case, but can it tell us what ought to be the case?
    • Electrons behave as they do - that is neither morally right nor wrong - it is just the way things are - the whole story.
    • We behave in certain ways but that is not the whole story for we know we ought to behave in certain other ways.
    • Therefore there is more than one kind of reality.
      • The first of these realities is subject to scientific investigation and discovery - the other one isn’t.
If our moral sense is not mere biology/ psychology nor social convention then:
    • it must have come from beyond the physical world.
  • That is what religion is about.

This is the basis of C. S. Lewis’s argument.


my own view
My own view:
  • Rather than saying there must be a ‘Moral Law’ coming from beyond us, I prefer to say:
    • Beauty, grandeur in the universe and the world are objective realities.
      • When we say: ‘The valley is beautiful’ we are not merely talking about our own feelings.
      • We are claiming that beauty is something that is actually there.
    • Beauty and grandeur are connected with goodness which is also something real.
      • Evil and suffering are alien intrusions.
    • Although we may not recognise it at first, the Spirit and Word of God (the source of creation, beauty and goodness) impinge upon us all and therefore we recognise righteousness when we see it and evil when we see it.
consider the gospel according to science by physicist paul davies and ponder these points
Consider: ‘The Gospel according to science’ by physicist Paul Davies and ponder these points:

His belief is that we must turn to science to find moral values.

  • Does he indicate what he means by goodness?
  • As well as good he believes humans commit much evil.
  • There is an underlying assumption that the survival and future happiness of our species is the final goal of goodness and morality.
    • If, as he says, we do evil things, why should our survival be a `good’?
    • Even if it is the case that morality is about our survival and happiness, does that follow from science? If not science then what?
  • He wonders how science can be used to give us moral values.
    • Does he give any indication of how this might be possible?
    • If not, why do you think he fails (and is bound to fail) to find a solution to his problem?
      • Can we get an `ought’ from an ‘is’? See three slides back.

‘Michael Ruse and reductionary illusions.’ by John Byle.

  • Michael Ruse’s theory is that there is no real ‘good’; it is just a useful illusion that helps preserves our species by making us behave more co-operatively. (If the ‘good’ is an illusion why should it be ‘good’ that we behave co-operatively?)
    • He believes that morality comes from our genes that trick us into thinking that co-operation is objectively ‘good.’
    • He believes, then, that understanding morality can be reduced to understanding our genes.
    • He has a reductionist view of morality.

John Byle argues that this theory refutes itself and therefore cannot be true.

now we note something said by richard dawkins atheist biologist in his book the selfish gene p 2
Now we note something said by Richard Dawkins (Atheist biologist). In his book: The Selfish Gene, p. 2:
  • "I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness.... Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals co-operate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish."
Richard Dawkins does not seem to realise that his desire that we be taught to be unselfish - against our biology - implies
    • that there is purpose to human existence
    • that something has gone wrong with our human being which should be countered by purposeful teaching.

If we think of our essence as mere accidental descent from bacteria, we can

  • find it depressing, as did George Bernard Shaw. (Next slide)
    • Also see description of society in ‘Bad and Bored’
  • Or we can rejoice in the meaninglessness of life - and allow the strong to eliminate the weak as in the quote of H. G. Wells. (2 slides ahead.)
    • (The following GBS and HGW quotes are taken from Richard Dawkins’ ‘The Devil’s Chaplain’.)
  • Or we can attempt to rise above the meaninglessness of life in personal existentialism. (Satre, Camus (?)

George Bernard Shaw wrote of Darwinian evolution:

  • When its whole significance dawns on you, your heart sinks into a heap of sand within you. There is a hideous fatalism about it, a ghastly and damnable reduction of beauty and intelligence, of strength and purpose, of honour and aspiration.

H.G.Wells, however, revelled in the ruthlessness of nature: And how will the New Republic treat the inferior races? How will it deal with the black? . . . the yellow man? . . . the Jew? . . . those swarms of black, and brown, and dirty-white, and yellow people, who do not come into the new needs of efficiency? Well, the world is a world, and not a charitable institution, and I take it they will have to go. . . . And the ethical system of these men of the New Republic, the ethical system which will dominate the world state, will be shaped primarily to favour the procreation of what is fine and efficient and beautiful in humanity—beautiful and strong bodies, clear and powerful minds. . . . And the method that nature has followed hitherto in the shaping of the world, whereby weakness was prevented from propagating weakness . . . is death. . . . The men of the New Republic . . . will have an ideal that will make the killing worth the while.

  • Someone asked: ‘Why shouldn't morality be accepted as the truth and Darwinism a mere political construct?’
a christian view of the source of our moral sense
A Christian View of the source of our moral sense:
  • Our moral awareness must be something above and beyond what we actually do.
    • Something real that is pressing on us though we often try to forget it.
  • We, from the inside, know there is a moral imperative.
    • We cannot follow it.
    • God comes to us and from the inside makes us what we ought to be.
  • Consider: `Lord Hailsham on the Objective Validity of Morality’.


"Man is the measure of all things"

Said Protagoras the ancient Greek Philosopher.


These days ‘humanist’ usually means ‘atheist’.

However that was not always so.

Even in its modern atheist form it is only a special (optimistic) form of atheism.

In its modern form it believes that we know nothing greater than ‘humans’ and therefore we should place our faith in humanity above all else.

As we shall see later, other forms of atheism say that there are no grounds for putting our faith in anything at all - not even ourselves.

We now turn briefly to the ancient world.
  • Ancient Greek philosophers believed the ability for reason
      • abstract thought
      • universal thought
    • made human beings unique and superior to all other earthly living or non-living things.
Ancient Greek philosophers believed the ability for reason
      • abstract thought
      • universal thought
    • made human beings unique and superior to all other earthly living or non-living things.
renaissance humanism 15th 16th centuries
Renaissance Humanism (15th & 16th Centuries)
  • Celebration of freedom of thought.
    • Dependence on the doctrines of the Church became less necessary
    • Right and wrong could be discerned from ‘the way the world is’.
    • Natural law.
  • Although knowledge became less dependent upon the Church, underpinning this humanism was faith in the goodness of the natural world and its Creator.
post enlightenment and modern humanism
Post Enlightenment and Modern Humanism.
  • After Newton’s discoveries of the ‘laws of motion’ governing the movement of bodies (large and small), many gradually came to believe that eventually all things would be explicable by physical laws alone.

Growth of a humanism without belief in God.

    • The Laws of Nature, eternal?
      • Why do the planets orbit the sun?
        • Not God but the law of gravity.
    • God of the gaps.
    • A mechanistic universe.
    • Reductionism

Nevertheless humanism maintains its optimistic belief in the goodness of humanity.

  • Humanists reject the idea of any supernatural agency intervening to help or hinder us.
  • Evidence shows that we have only one life, and humanists grasp the opportunity to live it to the full.
  • Humanists retain faith … that people can and will continue to solve problems, and that quality of life can be improved and made more equitable. Humanists are positive, gaining inspiration from a rich natural world, our lives and culture.
  • Humanists think that:
      • this world and this life are all we have;
      • we should try to live full and happy lives ourselves and, as part of this, make it easier for other people to do the same;
      • all situations and people deserve to be judged on their merits by standards of reason and humanity;
      • individuality and social co-operation are equally important.
questions problems for modern humanism 2
Questions & Problems for Modern Humanism 2
  • We must promote human happiness.
    • Yes but, how do we know what is good for the promotion of human happiness in the long term?
    • Does not human happiness come from a sense of purpose, which is being fulfilled?
      • What is this purpose?
    • Is humanity's purpose in life to be happy?
    • If that is the case, all that is being said is that in order for humanity to be happy it must be happy!
    • The first question above has not been answered.
questions and problems for modern humanism 3
Questions and Problems for Modern Humanism 3
  • God is now unnecessary because education has meant that humans have 'come of age'.
  • Are not some educated people criminals?
  • Is there evidence from our behaviour that we have grown up and can now safely guide ourselves?
  • Mankind is potentially capable of achieving great progress in terms, of technology and social justice.
  • Can we be sure that the way we have used the progress in technology has brought more good than evil?
questions problems for modern humanism 4
Questions & Problems for Modern Humanism 4
  • Mankind is also free to act and achieve his aims if he so chooses - there are no supernatural bonds to tie him down.
  • If we are nothing but bundles of matter and physical laws can there be real freedom?
questions problems for modern humanism 5
Questions & Problems for Modern Humanism 5
  • “Evidence shows that we have only one life ….”

What evidence?

human society its source of goodness and righteousness
Human Society - its Source of Goodness and Righteousness.

Goodness is the character of God shown, not primarily in a list of rules, but in His deeply personal dealings with us.

  • the Bible is the account of this.
  • It is focussed in the Person Jesus Christ in whom God comes face to face with us.
  • In Christ God self-sacrificially suffers for our sins.
    • giving us forgiveness lifting us up in His resurrection and ascension,to where we belong eternally.
    • That is the meaning of `love’ and it sums up true goodness.
    • We are called to love as He loves us.
    • From this comes our duties of respect for justice and the dignity of our fellow human beings and all creation.

In our yet imperfect world God knows we still need laws so, byHis grace, He gives them to us. (10 Commandments etc).

the source of goodness old and new
God - His goodness and laws.

Laws of the State as far as possible are in harmony with that goodness and Law of God

State legislation gives certain rights in certain contexts.

E.g. the ‘right’ of way at a crossroads.

But such a ‘right’ is not a fundamental human right.

The Concept of Human Rights replaces God.

As in a religion people are reluctant to challenge this new ‘god’.

Government legislation is always subject to ‘Human Rights’.

Where there is conflict between the Court of Human Rights and Government legislation - Human Rights has the final say.

The Source of Goodness - Old and New.
can the concepts of human rights and equality be a basis for moral decision making
Can the concepts of Human Rights and Equality be a basis for moral decision making?

Background to the modern revival of the concept of Human Rights.

  • Some governments treat their citizens terribly:
  • Dictatorships - fear of losing control
    • Imprisonment without trial, torture, killings, disappearances, genocide.
  • 1961 ‘Amnesty International’ was founded to campaign for the release of prisoners of conscience.
    • i.e. prisoners who had committed no crime, nor advocated violence but were in prison for their political or religious beliefs.
it was not until the rise and fall of Nazi Germany that the idea of rights--human rights--came truly into its own.
    • The laws authorising the dispossession and extermination of Jews and other minorities, the laws permitting arbitrary police search and seizure, the laws condoning imprisonment, torture, and execution without public trial--these and similar obscenities brought home the realisation that certain actions are wrong, no matter what; human beings are entitled to simple respect at least.

(Taken from an Encyclopaedia Britannica article)

A few milestones in the recent history of Human Rights declarations:
  • The Charter of the United Nations (1945) begins by reaffirming a "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small."
  • In 1950, the Council of Europe agreed to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This led to the creation of the European Commission of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.
  • The European Charter of Human Rights (ECHR) was incorporated into British Law in the year 2000.
narrow broad interpretations of human rights
Narrow & Broad Interpretations of Human Rights.
  • Narrow: Human Rights are relevant only to such things as `imprisonment without trial’, a ‘fair trial’, government sponsored torture, persecution on the grounds of beliefs etc.
  • An example of a Broad Interpretation of ‘Rights’: Christmas period 2000. Some Perthshire parents demanded their children’s ‘right’ to privacy and successfully asked the Council to forbid the taking of photos during school nativity plays. Other parents who wanted the ‘right’ to photograph a significant event in their child’s life were disappointed.
    • Does the concept of human rights give any help in settling disputes such as this?
    • Does the concept of Human Rights mean ‘human desires’?
      • No, but people will try to say that their desires are their rights!
      • How will the courts decide?
    • This is one of the main problems of the concept.
further back in history in america
Further back in history (in America):

Thomas Jefferson (3rd President of USA) asserted that his countrymen were a:

"free people claiming their rights as derived from the laws of nature and not as the gift of their Chief Magistrate,”

This gave poetic eloquence to the plain prose of the 17th century in the Declaration of Independence proclaimed by the 13 American Colonies on July 4, 1776:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

The idea of human rights as natural rights was not without its detractors.

Because they were conceived in essentially absolutist--"inalienable," "unalterable," "eternal"--terms, natural rights were found increasingly to come into conflict with one another.

(what if my supposed ‘right’ to do something impinges on your ‘rights’?)

Also the doctrine of natural rights came under powerful philosophical attack.

For example, David Hume (18th C sceptical philosopher) said the concept belonged to metaphysics - ie could not be verified by science and therefore was invalid.

(Taken from an Encyclopaedia Britannica article)

Some of the most basic questions have yet to receive conclusive answers.
      • Whether human rights are to be validated by intuition, or custom, or a particular sociological theory.
      • whether they are to be understood as irrevocable or partially revocable;
      • whether they are to be broad or limited in number and content
    • these and related issues are matters of ongoing debate.
    • Most assertions of human rights are qualified by the limitation that the rights of any particular individual or group are restricted as much as is necessary to secure the comparable rights of others.

(Taken from an Encyclopaedia Britannica article)

some complications and difficulties
Some Complications and difficulties:
  • What is the difference between a human desire and a human right?
  • Do we have a right to do what we like with our bodies in private?
    • Does what I do in private affect society at large - now or in the future? Some theories of human society say it does.
  • Abortion - whose right - mother's or the unborn?
  • When does the right to freedom of speech:
    • breach the right of someone to be protected from what he regards as offensive?
    • propagate evil and harm society.
  • Can a list of things, such as rights, describe the dignity of a person, or does a list of things not depersonalise us?
these dilemmas are faced in the following articles from the times sunday times and daily telegraph
These dilemmas are faced in the following articles from the Times, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph :
  • `Fundamentalism and Human Rights.
  • Cleaning up in court: the flood of legal action set to engulf Britain.
  • Human rights - by Cardinal Basil Hume
  • Church & Nation Committee 1999
  • Human Rights and Sexuality - EU.

Criticism of the concept of Human Rights by Leslie Newbigin in his : ‘Foolishness to the Greeks’ especially:The Right to … the pursuit of happiness.

  • But what is true happiness ?
    • If we can’t ask the Question:
      • “What is the chief purpose of man’s existence?”
      • then happiness is whatever each person defines it as.
    • Without belief in heaven or hell the pursuit of happiness is carried out in the few short uncertain years before death.
    • Hectic search for happiness leading to great anxiety
Criticism, (continued) of the concept of Human Rights by Leslie Newbigin especially:The Right to … the pursuit of happiness.
  • If everyone claims the right to life, liberty & happiness
    • who is under obligation to honour this claim ?
  • Middle Ages - there were reciprocal rights & duties.
    • Rights & duties went hand in hand and both were finite.
  • But quest for happiness is infinite (we are always wanting more from life)
    • who has the infinite duty to honour the infinite claims?
    • The answer is perceived to be the nation state.
    • Demands on the state are without limit.
    • Nation state has taken the place of God as the source to which many look for happiness.
Criticism (continued) of the concept of Human Rights by Leslie Newbigin especially:The Right to … the pursuit of happiness.
  • Should I claim my ‘wants’ as ‘rights’? Or should it be my ‘needs’ that are my `rights’?
    • My wants may be (and often are) irrational;
    • I can (and often do) want things that would not in the end bring me lasting happiness.
    • My real needs - what I need to reach my true end - may be different from the wants I feel.
  • The political left usually desire to provide for our needs, whereas the political right want to allow us to make up our own minds and therefore be governed by our wants.
  • The argument of the political left assumes that need creates a right that has priority over the wants of those who wish to pursue personal happiness in the way they choose.
Criticism of the concept of Human Rights by Leslie Newbigin especially:The Right to … the pursuit of happiness.
  • Difficulties immediately appear:
    • ‘Needs’ can be accorded priority over ‘wants’ only if there is some socially accepted view of the goal of human existence.
      • in other words, a socially accepted doctrine of the nature and destiny of the human being.
      • Such a socially accepted doctrine is excluded by the dogma of pluralism that controls post-Enlightenment society.
lesslie newbigin on equality
Lesslie Newbigin on Equality
  • We are all equal in our basic need for survival; this is the need we share with the animals.
  • But to be human means to need other things -respect, honour, love.
  • These needs, social rather than merely biological, call precisely for differentiation rather than for equality.
  • There are different kinds of respect, & love we owe to wife, husband, teachers, colleagues, parents, friends, children.
  • It is this kind of differentiated respect, honour, and love that makes life human.
  • An undifferentiated acknowledgement of the basic biological needs of a human being does not.
  • And these things - respect, honour, and love - cannot be claimed as rights.

Is the word `rights' the right word? If `yes' address the problems and answer them. If `no' provide another way of expressing the belief in correct treatment of one-another.

  • Alternative way of expressing the belief in correct treatment of one-another
    • Duty. We have duties to one another:
      • What God values and loves I must value and love.
      • Whereas each person demanding ‘rights’ tends to separate us into rival isolated individuals; each person having a ‘duty’ to others unites us in relationships.
    • The concept of human rights has been useful in challenging cruel governments about their behaviour but can it really be the basis of:
      • moral decision making?
      • Government policy making?
a christian alternative
A Christian Alternative:
  • For our sake God Himself surrendered His rights and entered our suffering and death so as to forgive us and lift us up to Him.
  • Christ did not count His equality with God something to hold on to but He surrendered it for us:

Phil 2:3-11 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name …

rights and equality the bible
Rights and Equality - the Bible.
  • Sometimes we are called to surrender our rights and make sacrifices in order that we might help one another.
  • The Bible’s injunction is not that I should claim equality but I should count others as worthy of receiving greater honour than I receive.

How do I balance the ‘rights’ of the individual with the interests of society as a whole?

    • Utilitarians and Marxists emphasised the ‘greatest happiness of the greatest number’ and despised the desires of the individual.
    • Eastern Religions tend to see our human destiny, beyond this life, is to lose our individual identity in the ocean of the One.
  • What is the right balance and how is it achieved?

Three models of human relations:Pebbles, Ocean, Web.

1. Pebbles.

This corresponds to what I have called external relations. Imagine pebbles on a beach. They do not belong together except by accident. Each pebble remains a pebble whether or not it is with other pebbles. Touching another pebble does not make it more or less a pebble. The one pebble is not necessarily affected by what happens to many pebbles. It can exist by itself. In this analogy relations are external and incidental.

Human Rights tend to separate us into self-contained individuals each demanding his/her own rights, without a corresponding concern for the general good.


2. The Ocean.

  • This is most similar to the Eastern religion's view of reality where we don't have the problem of the relation of the one with the many. Each individual does not exist as a permanent reality. We are all different manifestations of the One and our destiny is to lose our individuality in the one Ocean. In this analogy relations areimpermanent and ephemeral.
  • It also relates to the utilitarian and Marxist view of ethics namely that the good of society as a whole overrides the rights of the individual.

3. The Web.

  • In this analogy relations areinternal and constitutive. My real 'self' is constituted, maintained and eternally guaranteed in relations with other selves. Other selves include, not only human beings but of course, God and the higher animals - animals that He created so that humans should not be alone on earth .
    • In fundamental physics wave-particles such as electrons, do not always seem to exist as isolated entities, but their very existence comes from relationships . Once two electrons have interacted, their behaviours become interdependent even though they may be separated by millions of miles and there be no way in which they can communicate!
    • Adam, Christ, and Us.
    • The Trinity.
Human dignity is the foundation for nurturing and protecting human rights. It is rooted in the vision of the 'fullness of life' promised in the incarnation of Jesus Christ and his identification with all humankind. We must be reminded that human dignity is something persons have, not something they must earn or be granted. Dignity is not a quality bestowed on others by the family, by society, or by a government. Rather, dignity is a reality as a consequence of God's good creation and never-ending love. This reality requires acknowledgement and respect.
  • Robert A. Evans, Human Rights in a Global Context

The Judge was Jeremy Cooke at the Sept 2002 Oxford Conference on Human Rights.

Summary of a Christian Judge’s view*:

  • Our sense of morality should give rise to legislation enacted by governments. E.g. our sense that it is wrong to steal will give rise to laws forbidding various forms of stealing.
  • Laws also regulate how we should behave in certain contexts so as to preserve an ordered society. Such legislation will give certain people rights in certain contexts.
    • For example at a crossroads law gives someone the right of way.
    • However this is not a fundamental human right which gives rise to a law. It is the result of a law for that particular situation.
  • Rights should occur in the context of the law of the land but not be considered as the source of morality itself.
  • However the British (and other European) governments have reversed this and given the European Convention on Human Rights preference over the legislation of individual parliaments.
articles from the press
Articles from the Press
  • Bishop of Rochester’s warning and Telegraph editorial.
  • Human Rights and Justice - Roger Scruton.
  • `Fundamentalism and Human Rights.
  • Cleaning up in court: the flood of legal action set to engulf Britain.
  • Human rights - by Cardinal Basil Hume.

John Witte Jnr is Director, Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion at Emory University (2000- )

The modern cultivation of human rights ... began in earnest in the 1940's when both Christianity and the Enlightenment seemed incapable of delivering on their promises. ... there was no second coming of Christ promised by Christians, no heavenly city of reason promised by enlightened libertarians, no withering away of the state promised by enlightened socialists. Instead, there was world war, gulags, and the Holocaust - a vile and evil fascism and irrationalism to which Christianity and the Enlightenment seemed to have no cogent response or effective deterrent.

  • The modern human rights movement was thus born out of desperation in the aftermath of World War II. It was an attempt to find a world faith to fill a spiritual void. It was an attempt to harvest from the traditions of Christianity and the Enlightenment the rudimentary elements of a new faith and a new law that would unite a badly broken world order.
  • John Witte, Jr*, The Spirit of the Laws, the Laws of the Spirit, in Stackhouse & Browning (eds), God and Globalization, Vol.2

Oliver O'Donovan is Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, Oxford

'What effect does this … have upon the conception of justice? It dissolves its unity and coherence by replacing it with a plurality of 'rights'. The language of subjective rights (i.e. rights which adhere to a particular subject) has, of course, a perfectly appropriate and necessary place within a discourse founded on law… What is distinctive about the modern conception of rights, however, is that subjective rights are taken to be original, not derived. The fundamental reality is a plurality of competing, unreconciled rights, and the task of law is to harmonise them… The right is a primitive endowment of power with which the subject first engages in society, not an enhancement which accrues to the subject from an ordered and politically formed society.'

  • Oliver O'Donovan*, The Desire of the Nations
Contemporary moral experience …. has a paradoxical character. For each of us is taught to see himself or herself as an autonomous moral agent; but each of us also becomes engaged by … manipulative relationships with others.Seeking to protect the autonomy that we have learned to prize, we aspire ourselves not to be manipulated by others; ... we find no way open to us to do so except by directing towards others those very manipulative modes of relationship which each of us aspires to resist in our own case. The incoherence of our attitudes arises from the incoherent conceptual scheme which we have inherited. Once we have understood this, it is possible to understand also the key place that the concept of rights has in the distinctively modern moral scheme…

…the culture of bureaucratic individualism results in ... political debates being between individualism which makes its claims in terms of rights and forms of bureaucratic organisation which make their claims in terms of utility. But if the concept of rights and that of utility are a matching pair of incommensurable fictions, it will be the case that the moral idiom employed can at best provide a semblance of rationality for the modern political process, but not its reality. The mock rationality of the debate conceals the arbitrariness of the will and power at work in its resolution.

Alister MacIntyre, After Virtue

What would it mean to come to a genuine, unforced international consensus on human rights? I suppose it would be something like … an 'overlapping consensus'. That is, different groups, countries, religious communities, civilizations, while holding incompatible fundamental views on theology, metaphysics, human nature, etc., would come to an agreement on certain norms that ought to govern human behaviour. Each would have its own way of justifying this from out of its profound background conception. We would agree on the norms, while disagreeing on why they were the right norms. And we would be content to live in this consensus, undisturbed by the differences of profound underlying belief….

Is this kind of consensus possible? Perhaps because of my optimistic nature, I believe that it is. But we have to confess at the outset that it is not entirely clear around what the consensus would form, and we are only beginning to discern the obstacles we would have to overcome on the way there.

Charles Taylor, Conditions of an Unforced Consensus on Human Rights


An Introduction to some issues in Human Bioethics.

Relevant to this discussion is the nature of the ‘soul’ or ‘self’.

I discuss the self or soul’s nature and mystery in other modules - also in Power Point format.

Briefly, those who favour giving science freedom to advance in genetic technology emphasise the potential huge medical benefits, and those opposed emphasise the sanctity of life at its earliest stage and fear the ‘slippery slope’ into eugenics (attempts to produce the perfect ‘race’ with the danger of discrimination against the ‘imperfect’.) practised by the Nazis.


Embryonic Stem Cell Research.

Abortion is not used to obtain these embryos.

Only ‘no-use’ In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) embryos are used for research. (They would otherwise be discarded.)

What is IVF?

Use of artificial techniques to join an ovum with sperm outside (in vitro) a woman's body to help infertile couples to have children of their own. The basic technique of IVF involves removing ova from a woman's ovaries, fertilising them in the laboratory, and then inserting them into her uterus.

The first ‘test-tube baby’, Mary Louise Brown, was born in England in 1978.

Many ova are removed from the womb and fertilised. Only one or two are returned to the womb.

The remainder are either discarded or available for experiments.


Human Reproduction and differentiation.

  • Male sperm and female ovum combine to form new embryo.
  • The nucleus of this new embryo is a new DNA code which is derived from both mother and father.
  • For the first 14 days this embryo divides and multiplies but is not a miniature human being. It is more like a ‘recipe’. Each cell has the same DNA code.
    • Each cell has the potential to form any part of the body.
  • At 14 days, the cells ‘differentiate’.
    • Different parts of the code in each cell are switched off and so each cell now ‘knows’ what part of the body it is to form.
    • What differentiates a skin cell (say) from a heart cell (say) is the parts of the code that are switched off.
  • At this stage of ‘differentiation’ (a great mystery) we have the beginnings of a human being in miniature.

Reproductive Cloning - not used for humans yet.

A cell is removed from the skin (say) of a mature person and its DNA is put in the nucleus of a new cell (the cell’s own nucleus having been removed.)

An electric current or chemical is used to fuse the new nucleus with the egg which is ‘tricked’ into accepting it.

This mature differentiated skin DNA then undifferentiates (how this happens is a mystery). New egg is put in the womb.

So now we have an egg with a DNA derived not from a loving relation between male and female but from one person’s skin (say).This is theethical problem of reproductive cloning.

Baby will be a clone or twin of the life that gave cells of skin.

This process was used to produce ‘Dolly’ the sheep - which died early of old age related illnesses.

Reproductive cloning of humans is dangerous and illegal.


Therapeutic Cloning.

  • (Legal in UK but each case needs special permission)
  • Same procedure as above - but the new cell is only allowed to divide and grow up to 14 days - ie still in a pre-differentiated state.
  • In the 14 days stem cells are ‘harvested’ and cultured. Being undifferentiated, they can be used indefinitely as (1) a source of tissue for any part of the donor’s body or (2) for researching causes of, and cures for, diseases.
    • The stem cells have the same DNA code as the donor and therefore there is no danger of rejection of the implanted tissue.
  • These stem cells are not embryos - detached from the embryo’s outer layer, they have no potential to grow into babies.
    • For 14 days the embryo, before being killed, is a source of stem cells.

Ethical issues with therapeutic cloning involve:

  • (1) enormous health benefits to be gained.
  • (2) the status of this undifferentiated embryo - soon to be discarded.
    • Is it human?; deserving of some respect but not as a ‘human’?;deserving no respect?
  • Those who deny that it is human say that the pre-differentiated embryo can still be induced to form twins - so it is not one ‘self’.
  • Opponents say there is no need to use an artificially produced embryos to get stem cells. They are present in the blood and bone marrow of an adult.
  • Response: ‘yes’ but the embryonic stem cells are more flexible and easier to work with. Potential results from embryonic stem cells are greater than stem cells taken from mature bone marrow.

Embryo and Genetic Screening.

  • Should parents know in advance of any potential or certain genetic disease in their unborn baby?
    • A childhood disease, or for example, late onset Huntingdon's or Alzheimer's.
  • Would you like to know about your future?
    • If you were told you had a genetic disease should you have children?
    • If you already have children should you tell them?
    • Should your insurance company have the right to know?
    • What about information on government data bases and identity cards?

Embryo Screening and Abortion.

  • At present abortion for a diagnosed serious disease is allowed up to birth.
      • What counts as serious?
      • Slippery slope. Cleft pallet.
      • What about people with genetic defects we know? Should they have been killed in the womb?
      • Jessica.

Saviour Siblings.

(28th April 2005 - Law Lord’s back couple’s plea to create designer baby to cure son.)

Parents have a sick or dying child. A tissue match from a compatible child might cure him/her.

Several eggs taken from mother’s womb (some may have been left over from previous IVF) and a match is sought and found.

The match must be compatible but not contain the defective gene of the sick child.The other eggs are discarded.

Will the new child feel it was chosen just for its ‘spare parts’?Will it be happy or unhappy that it was born to save another, rather than born only for the normal reasons?Is the new child there as a commodity?

Surely its own attitude of self-giving or resentment will determine the answer as to how it develops as a human being.


Designer babies - a Post-Human Future?

  • If embryos can be selected for qualities that could help a sibling, what about other qualities such as:
    • Gender, intelligence, height, athletic ability?
  • What about future science allowing us to engineer our feelings, eliminating:
    • phobias, guilt feelings, feelings of horror at genetic engineering, revulsion that we are no longer human?
  • The powerful could engineer happy and content slaves who do not regret the loss of an earlier humanity.
  • Possibilities like these are taken very seriously by some academics especially Dr. Nick Bostrom of Oxford University who favours a post human future as long as the science is guided morally.
  • Warning is given in Frances Fukuyama’s ‘Our Post Human Future’ See also: Couples may get chance to design the 'ideal' IVF baby.


  • A Godless world finds identity in biology. (Times 20th January 2004).
  • We should fear the disturbing future where man becomes superman. (Times 12th October 2004)
  • We briefly refer to the book:
  • ‘Our Posthuman Future’ by Francis Fukuyama.
  • The book’s subject is the biotechnology revolution - its promises and dangers.
  • With developing techniques for genetic engineering and perhaps designer babies, we face the questions:
    • What is it to be human?
    • How do we differentiate between right and wrong?

Fukuyama considers the following approaches to the answers:

a. religion (we learn from God our true nature),

b. natural law (what we discern from nature),

c. positivism (customs and rules of society - made by us).

He dismisses positivism, skirts round religion and so chooses natural law.


Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Our Posthuman Future’ continued.

From nature Fukuyama believes we can discern a ‘factor X’ that uniquely is the essence of humanity:

It consists of a combination of: language, emotions, and the ability for abstract reasoning.

He concludes that any biotechnology must not interfere with these characteristics of our species. If they do they will have produced a ‘non-human’ being.

Even if he is right that these qualities do constitute true humanity, he does not say why they should be valued.Why should humanity be valued?

As philosophers since Hume realised one cannot get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ or ‘are’.

The statement: ‘This is what peopleoughtto be’ does not follow from the statement: ‘this is what peopleare’.


A Christian Perspective.

  • Should humans play God?
    • All medical techniques involve interference with the course of a decaying physical nature. Maybe (being in the image of God) we are meant to be creative?
  • However God, in creating creatures in His image for love and fellowship did not clone Himself!
  • Christian theology cannot give all the answers to the difficult ethical questions. However we can say certain things about our humanity.
  • Image of God.
    • Relationship.
    • Reproduction should be from a loving committed relationship between a man and woman.

A Christian Perspective continued.

  • Our humanity is not an accident.
    • It is God’s purpose that we be human not post-human.
  • The image of God is best seen in Christ who is ‘the Image of the Invisible God’.(Colossians 1:15)
  • In Hebrews 2:17 we read:
  • Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
  • Christ’s identity with us goes back to his conception in the womb of Mary.
  • John the Baptist was ‘filled with the Spirit, even from his mother's womb.’ (Luke 1:15).

A Christian Perspective Continued.

A few verses from Psalm 139.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance.

It is the exposition of these great facts of theology that should enable doctors and geneticists to have the perspective they need to make the ethical judgements they face.

Christian theology cannot determine all that is right and wrong in biotechnology but it can give the basis needed to make difficult decisions.

  • `God is Dead’
    • Thus Spake Zarathustra begins with pronouncement by Zarathustra that God is dead.

According to Nietzsche Christian belief in God is essential for morality.

To try to preserve it without God is an ‘English’ fantasy.

Values cannot survive without belief in God.

There is no value to be discovered in the world.

He attacks the view that the preservation and advancement of humankind can be a motive for morality.

He is thus afraid of the ‘nihilism’ that will follow the death of God.

However he is also afraid we may cling to Christian morality (without reason) and deteriorate into the ‘slave’ morality described in the Sermon on the Mount.


No truth can serve as the basis of morality or immorality. (Although there are cases where ‘moral’ action should be pursued and ‘immoral’ be action avoided but not for any ultimate reason.)

Why should we be interested in truth? Maybe the pursuit of falsehood might serve us better.

Dissatisfaction is the germ of ethics.

Survival of the fittest belongs to what we actually are. Therefore our humanity must be affirmed by the pursuit of ‘Greatness’ rather than ‘Goodness’.

Greatness absorbs and uses pain.

Goodness tries to relieve pain - and is therefore to be despised.

We must assert the ‘will to power’ or the ‘master morality’ rather than the pathetic appeals to goodness by the ‘slaves’ who invoke Christian morality or ‘human rights’ to protect them from the masters.

because god is dead said nietzsche
Because God is Dead (said Nietzsche):
  • It follows that:
    • the physical world with its laws is all that there is
    • there is no real `I' independent of my body/brain. (See quote in next slide)
    • no such thing as free thought
    • no such thing as reasoning and knowledge
    • science as knowledge of the real universe is an illusion
quotation from beyond good and evil
Quotation from `Beyond Good and Evil’:

As for the superstitions of the logicians, I shall never tire of underlining a concise little fact which these superstitious people are loath to admit - namely that a thought comes when it wants, not when `I' want; so that it is a falsification of the facts to say: the subject `I' is the condition of the predicate `think'

By ‘logicians’ Nietzsche means scientists and others who believe genuine thought is possible.

He is saying that `thinking’, as we normally consider it, is not possible.

the irony
The Irony
  • In an age of dramatic scientific discoveries we decide that we know nothing
    • To the obvious question: `How can it be true that there is no truth?' he provides no answer. He cannot.
    • Nietzsche enjoys the irony that the rationality that made science possible has been destroyed by science.
nietzsche s existentialism in blue
Nietzsche’s existentialism inblue
  • Science alone provides the given
  • This has made our normal understanding of truth unintelligible
  • There is no objective purpose to life - no good and evil.
  • We must now seize the moment, say yes to life, and impose our will on the world around us. We must be strong willed.
  • Truth is not discovered it is created.
  • Truth is the will to power.
just one example of nietzsche s rejection of objective morality
Just one example of Nietzsche’s rejection of objective morality:

"Who can attain to anything great if he does not feel in himself the force and will to inflict great pain ? The ability to suffer is a small matter: in that line, weak women and even slaves often maintain masterliness.

But not to perish from internal distress and doubt when one inflicts great suffering and hears the cry to it - that is great, that belongs to greatness.”

Friedrich Nietzche, 'The Joyful Wisdom', trans. by Thomas Common (New York: Russell and Russell, Inc., 1964), p.25.

nietzsche s contradictory tragic life 1
Nietzsche’s Contradictory & Tragic Life(1)
  • Son of a Protestant minister
  • Father died young.
  • He always loved and honoured his father’s memory.
  • On his father’s grave stone he put the words from the New Testament:
    • Love abides forever.
  • He had little money, poor health and was lonely.
nietzsche s contradictory tragic life 2
Nietzsche’s Contradictory & Tragic Life(2)
  • Yet he hated teaching of Jesus such as:
    • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
    • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
    • Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    • But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
nietzsche s contradictory tragic life 3
Nietzsche’s Contradictory & Tragic Life(3)
  • He believed such teaching went against his conviction that we must assert ourselves in the face of adversity.
  • He believed Jesus encouraged weakness.
  • A Question:
    • Could the contradictions in his intellectual and spiritual life have contributed to his eventual insanity? (He died at 56 after spending years in a psychiatric hospital)

Richard Rorty is Professor of Comparative Literature in USA and a well known supporter of Post-Modernism

Richard Rorty*, Human Rights, Rationality and Sentimentality:

  • When contemporary admirers of Plato claim that all featherless bipeds - even the stupid and childlike, even the women, even the sodomized - have the same inalienable rights, admirers of Nietzsche reply that the very idea of 'inalienable human rights is, like the idea of a special added ingredient, a laughably feeble attempt by the weaker members of the species to fend off the stronger.
  • As I see it, one important intellectual advance made in our century is the steady decline of interest in the quarrel between Plato and Nietzsche. There is a growing willingness to neglect the question 'What is our nature?' and to substitute the question 'What can we make of ourselves?'… We are coming to think of ourselves as the flexible, protean, self-shaping animal rather than as the rational animal or the cruel animal.
  • One of the shapes we have recently assumed is that of a human rights culture… We should stop trying to get behind or beneath this fact, stop trying to detect and defend its so-called 'philosophical presuppositions'… Philosophers like myself… see our task as a matter of making our own culture - the human rights culture - more self-conscious and more powerful, rather than of demonstrating its superiority to other cultures by an appeal to something trans-cultural.
genetic determinism and sociobiology
Genetic Determinism and Sociobiology.
  • Before we consider these topics we consider the more general metaphysical theory: Scientism.
  • See `What is Scientism?’
    • Especially note the consequences for moral thinking which come from the quotations from Bertrand Russell and the Los Angeles judge.
  • Turning to Genetic Determinism and Sociobiology, our question is not: `Do Genes affect our behaviour?’ - Of course they do! The question is rather: `Could genes and other physical factors provide the complete explanation of why we behave as we do or is there, in addition, genuine free will?
See `Moral credit where it is due’ by Janet Daley in the Daily Telegraph.
  • If genes entirely determine our bad behaviour, do they also determine:
    • our good behaviour?
    • our opinions about what is good and what is bad?
      • (How could we tell that my genes produce better behaviour than your genes? What standard could we use to determine what `better’ means?)
    • the decisions that law makers make?
    • the decisions law enforcers make about other people?
  • Think about of the case of the alcoholic lawyer John Baker who embezzled his client’s money. What genetic or racial factors did the judge take into consideration? Was the judge right? After the case was over, Baker gave up alcohol. So had his alcoholism really been the inevitable result of his genetic and racial make up?
  • A fairly new theory, defined by Edward O. Wilson (one of its main proponents) as the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behaviour.(Sociobiology: the New Synthesis, 1975 page 3.) It states that genetics and evolution are the main factors responsible, not only our existence, but also for our behaviour and sense of right and wrong.
    • In his book Consilience Wilson expounds this.
      • See my critical review (published in the journal: Philosophia Christi). The review is also on my web pages.
  • Sometimes supporters of Sociobiology say we actually exist for the benefit and propagation of our genes.
    • (E.g.: Richard Dawkins’ book: The Selfish Gene and quotations from Dawkins and Wilson - next slide.)

We are machines built by DNA whose purpose is to make more copies of the same DNA … Flowers are for the same thing as everything else in the living kingdoms, for spreading ‘copy me’ programmes about, written in DNA language.

This is EXACTLY what we are for. We are machines for propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a self sustaining process. It is every living objects’ sole reason for living.

(Richard Dawkins: ‘The Ultraviolet Garden’, Royal Institution Christmas Lecture No. 4, 1991)

The individual organism is only the vehicle (of genes), part of an elaborate device to preserve and spread them with the least possible biochemical perturbation .. The organism is only DNA’s way of making more DNA.

E. O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Harvard University Press, 1975, p. 3.

(I owe these quotations to Denis Alexander’s ‘Rebuilding the Matrix’ p. 274)

Critics say Sociobiology:
    • threatens our motivation to change the world for the better.
    • turns genes into new kinds of ‘gods’ for whose purpose we live!
  • See:
    • A New Religion - by philosopher David Stove.
  • A longer article available on request is:
    • Against Sociobiology - by Tom Bethell (Senior Editor of the American Spectator)
modernism and post modernism
Modernism and Post Modernism.

What is meant by Modernism?

It had/has many differing forms mainly expressing beliefs about science and/or politics and the meaning of human history.

  • It was/is the quest for certainty without reference to religion, metaphysics or other personal characteristics of the scientist. (Many ‘modern’ people remained religious but used religion for their private lives and kept it out of the public domain.)
what is modernism continued
What is Modernism - continued.
  • From science:
    • Truth is built on logic applied to self-evident truths (rationalism) and/or experimental data.
    • Objective scientific method applied across the board in the soft sciences (eg: sociology, psychology)
    • Naturalism and scientism: The physical universe is all there is and this includes animals and humans.
    • They too can be understood by physical laws alone.
    • (Remember Francis Crick, slide 9)
  • From history and politics:
    • Marxism was one political example of modernism.
the meta narratives of modernism broke down
The Meta-narratives of Modernism broke down:
  • Problems with Modernism.
    • Political Theories broke down.
    • Science’s advance reveals more and more mystery.
      • It can’t answer the ultimate questions after all.
    • Doubts about science’s ability to be really objective.
    • Religion, metaphysics, and subjective factors cannot be removed from science.
    • Depersonalising influence of modernism
      • wars, pollution,
      • it cannot explain our personal self-awareness and spiritual longings.
    • Its optimistic belief in progress has been undermined by recent human history.
post modernism reacts against modernism
Post Modernism reacts against Modernism.
  • If the Meta narratives of Modernism fail should we return to the big stories or Meta narratives of religion?
  • Jean-Francois Lyotard (French Canadian), in 1979, defined Post Modernism as `incredulity towards (all) Meta-narratives’.
    • Neither science nor politics nor religion give us universal truth.
    • There is no `big story’ - there is no universal truth.
  • Don’t worry - just pick and mix what makes you feel good.
  • Don’t consider the big questions. Just enjoy your own little world.
  • Mix together ancient and modern images, sayings and teachings.
    • Don’t ask yourself what they mean - meaning does not matter - there is no universal meaning.
  • If possible enjoy both religious services and speeches by atheists.
    • If they appear to contradict one another - don’t worry - its how they make you feel that matters.
  • Just don’t get bored.

Post Modernism is a ‘care-free’ attitude to life coming from the conviction that there are no universal truths.

  • If there are no truths then there can be no moral judgement that this behaviour or custom or art is better than that.
  • But can that conviction remain care-free?
  • So Modernism depersonalises and post modernism stops us making judgements about right/wrong and beautiful/ugly.
  • The Intellectual Problem for Post Modernism
  • ‘There is no absolute truth’ is itself a statement that claims to be absolutely true!
  • Post Modernism therefore refutes itself!

Structuralism, Post Structuralism and Decontructionism.

  • In contrast to the old view that all my disparate parts are held together by my unchanging 'self' and 'consciousness',
    • Structuralism held that the real 'I’ or ‘me’ is the construction of the 'language' of my culture.
  • The old view had been that my conscious self apprehends the real world around me,
  • and then from my ideas about it, formulates language to communicate to other ‘selves’ my ideas of reality.
    • So language is a product of the 'self' apprehending the real world out there.

Structuralism reverses this by making the whole 'language' the source of the structure of the real 'me'.

    • Words are defined by other words not by the reality they pretend to reflect.
      • So words do not refer to the real world.
      • They are understood by their difference in relation to other words. (Words 'differ' and do not 'refer')
        • It is claimed evidence for this comes from attempts to translate one language to another.
          • All translations are approximations.
    • This means that there is no direct reference from reality to word.
    • Words only find meaning in relation to other words.
  • Structuralists tried to strip the human of his various cultures which structure the 'person' to find the real 'person' behind all the differing manifestations of humanity.

Post Structuralists thought that

      • there were no definite underlying structures that could explain the human condition
      • it was impossible to step outside of discourse and survey the situation objectively.
  • Jacques Derrida (1930- ) developed Deconstruction as a technique for uncovering the cultural assumptions hidden in the texts.
    • Influenced by Nietzsche and others, Derrida suggests that all text has ambiguity,
      • therefore the possibility of a final and complete interpretation is impossible.
        • There is no point in trying to get back to the ‘author’ (including Derrida himself?).

According to Post Structuralists and Deconstructionists:

    • Language contains hidden ‘hierarchies' and 'privilege' which construct the culture.
    • Language gives Reason/Science a special places of privilege.
      • (Yet science does not really know what reality is. It should be more humble.)
        • To identify these hierarchies one is involved in 'deconstruction'.
    • Attempts to interpret texts have given the Author a privilege.
      • Deconstruction rejects this and therefore seeking 'what the author really meant' is wrong. (Therefore to try to find what Derrida really meant is also wrong!)
  • Anti-Elitism.
    • Post-modern art attacks traditional views of 'quality’. Exhibits:
    • a bicycle wheel, vacuum cleaners, a dirty nappy, a urinal.
    • those portraying contradiction and absurdity, such as:
        • a picture of a horse labelled as a ‘door’ and a glass of water labelled as an ‘oak tree’.