Philosophy Archives

October 30, 2002

An Old Thought About Truth and Logic

A while back, I signed my email with the following quote:

You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.--G. K. Chesterton

Jim raised the point with me, pointing out that it's a bit of a religious argument there. And at the time, I didn't have much of a defense. I was thinking about it just now, and realized that it depends on your timescale to a certain extent. Thinking of the human mind as a complex machine, are you using logic when you decide on Truth? Certainly at the lowest level, things are logically making sense - this molecule triggers that reaction and that reaction produces this other chemical which spreads and so forth, but that's certainly not the logic Chesterton refers to. I think my response would be that at some point, even in the most rigorous logical exercises, we make a deductive leap. This leap, if the thing we are leaping to is at all important (read: nontrivial) is quite likely (possibly required to be) not a direct result of logic at all, but a "gut" feeling that we later justify with logic. Perhaps?

January 5, 2004

What You Can't Say

I found a fascinating article about moral fashions and what you can't say. Check it out here.

July 19, 2004

Revisionist History

revisionist_history.gif An interesting commentary. Gads, I love Calvin and Hobbes—not because I think they're always right, but because they come up with some really insightful observations.

June 6, 2005

Children and Adults

I originally wrote this as an email, but I think it deserves to be here:

It occurs to me to ponder… is mandatory reporting ever a good idea? Is it ever legal?

I mean, it’s easier to say YES if the first example you use is the most depraved crime you can think of, based solely on the strength of your repulsion for the particular crime. And children are an easy target because we, as a society, have a hard time with what, exactly, children are.

Are children people?

Does a person (say, a neighbor) have the right to refuse to report a crime he doesn’t think should be reported? Say, someone makes a left turn at a red-light, or violates a housing ordinance (puts up an un-approved fence, say). Is this right ever abrogated for a severe enough crime? If you see a gang-rape in an alley, should you be legally required to call the police? How about if a friend confides to you that her ex-boyfriend raped her?

Does mandatory reporting turn us into a Big Brother state where children are encouraged to tattle on their parents to the feds for disloyalty and unpatriotism?

How much power over your children should you get? You can put them to work without paying them, but only as their parent. You can force optional surgery on them, but only as their parent (read: circumcision). Should you be able to deny your child access to a polio vaccine or polio treatment because your religious beliefs demand that you avoid stymying God’s will by going to a doctor? How about denying your prematurely born child the respirator it/he/she needs in order to live? How about your abused child with broken bones—can you deny him medical treatment in order to avoid going to prison (5th Amendment says you don’t have to provide evidence against yourself)?

If your 13-year-old child walks himself to a medical facility with a broken arm and gets treatment, can you sue the hospital for not checking with you first?

Can your 8-year-old that’s afraid of needles refuses to get her rubella and tuberculosis innoculations, or can you force her? What about a 16-year-old that doesn’t want to get his prostate checked the first time?

If a 13-year-old got raped by her grandfather, can’t admit it to her family (they wouldn’t believe her), but manages to take herself to a clinic, can law enforcement take her medical records without her permission? With her permission? What if she just tore herself while experimenting with masturbation?

How come she could go to a Catholic confessional and explain this all to a priest and the government can’t demand that the priest tell anyone?

This email was in response to recent events in Indiana where Planned Parenthood is/was fighting Medicaid because Medicaid was looking to enforce the Indiana state law mandating that doctors must report any evidence of sexual abuse (including molestation) in girls under the age of 14. In Indiana, any child under the age of 14 who is treated sexually in virtually any way is considered to have been molested. A complaint had been filed that Planned Parenthood was not following the law, so Medicaid requested all records of all patients under the age of 14 that Planned Parenthood had seen. Planned Parenthood refused.

I was thinking about this this morning, and I was realizing that (thinking about the intent of the law here) the youngsters that Medicaid really wants to know about are the ones that have gone to Planned Parenthood but have not gone to the authorities. Now, an argument can be made that perhaps by going to a doctor they thought they were going to the authorities, but bear with me. Imagine Indiana without this law. Going to the doctor and going to the authorities are two different acts. Of course, in rape cases, you should go to both and report your rape. …but for some reason many women do not go to the police. I think in many cases they probably regret this decision later, but in some cases I imagine they do not. But, for whatever the reason (privacy, guilt, love) some adult women do not go to the police when they are raped.

It occurred to me this morning in the shower that the law is essentially saying: in order for you (you being a 13-year-old who has had sex/been raped) to get medical attention, you must agree to report your activity to the authorities. Unless you agree to go to the authorities, you are banned from receiving medical attention. It’s not worded that way, of course, and I think they should go to the authorities… but is that the kind of punishment we want to mete out for those who are too scared or too in love or too something to report it to the police?

This takes thought in another direction: should not reporting a crime be considered a crime in and of itself, worthy of punishment? Because that’s essentially what this says: report the crime, or suffer the consequences of not being able to go to the doctor until all physical evidence of the crime is gone (however long that takes). This seems very similar to Good Samaritan laws, somehow: do something about the crime, or suffer the legal consequences.

Why isn’t this law in place for rape victims of all ages?

Should your doctor be a trusted advisor, or just another arm of the law? For example, if you went to you doctor in Virginia (or in the military) and asked about advice regarding anal sex with your wife, should he be required to turn you in for violating their sodomy laws? How about if your wife visits him?

But what gets me the most is that priestly confessions are considered sacrosanct, and priests have no requirement to turn over criminals. Why should doctors?

January 23, 2006

Justice and the Primacy of Conscience

I just had a quick idea, and I want to write it down before I forget. I was thinking about the Primacy of Conscience doctrine that I’m sure I’ve talked a lot about before, and I think you may be able to explain (in a post-hoc fashion) our justice system based on it. First, four assumptions/assertions:

  1. There are objectively right and wrong acts in any given circumstance, even if we don’t know which is which.
  2. We cannot be faulted for doing the best we can. In other words, if we did not know any better, we can’t be blamed. (That’s where the primacy of conscience part is.)
  3. We cannot trust people to accurately report whether they were doing the best they could.
  4. Assume that adults know better unless proven otherwise. (Not the same thing as the previous rule: knowing and doing are different things.)

From there we get: how do we treat children? Depends on when we believe they might reasonably be expected to know better about basic things. How do we treat the insane? Not guilty by reason of insanity makes sense, but has to be proven. Innocent-until-proven guilty stems from the same assertion as the “innocent by reason of insanity” defense.

February 4, 2006

Huzzah for the NYT

From the New York Times:

The pope has used the term “relativism” to describe not only non-absolute standards, but also uncertain ones. The alternative to certainty, however, is not nihilism but the recognition of fallibility, the idea that even a very reasonable belief is not beyond question. If that’s all relativism means, then it is hardly the enemy of truth or morality.

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